Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Judge Calls Fee Request “Attempted Robbery”

fees and billing Here’s a free risk management tip: it’s never a good sign when a judge calls your fee request an “attempted bank robbery.”

Just ask this lawyer in Pennsylvania, who was blasted from the federal bench for submitting a whopping fee petition after a small recovery in a civil rights suit.

The case was brought against a number of school administrators, teachers and principals, but eventually settled for what was described as “nuisance value” against only one teacher for $25,000 plus attorney fees.

Fireworks erupted over the fee amount. Plaintiffs’ counsel filed a petition – which included dozens of pages of time logs printed in teeny tiny font - asking for $727,000. This was received somewhat less than favorably by U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann, who called the request brazen, delusional and mind-boggling.

“Civil rights cases are not get-rich-quick tickets,” the judge wrote. “These raw, unprocessed entries … are inconsiderately supplied in what appears to be size 8-point font or smaller, comprise 44 separate pages, and frankly should sicken both bench and bar.”

Excreta and Lard

His honor slammed counsel for billing in six-minute increments for incoming and outgoing communications – many were for receiving a letter from the client – even if it took only seconds to accomplish the task, and for seeking payment for a court appearance the judge said was necessitated by counsel’s own “inflammatory conduct.”

“The vast majority of [the lawyer’s] entries are larded with excreta unbecoming of any attorney in this district and certainly unbillable to a client under any stretch of the imagination.”

In denying the fee request, the judge also fined the attorney $25,000 and said he would refer the matter to lawyer disciplinary authorities.

Counsel might have seen this coming.

Just a few weeks earlier, the judge, who presides over Pennsylvania’s Middle District, had come down hard on another attorney with nearly $116,000 in Rule 11 sanctions, for practicing dark legal arts.

In that order, Judge Brann said counsel had kept a meritless case alive by “a sort of litigious necromancy conjured up by … specious filings” and that “this was a case built largely on … posturing, the consistent filing of pleadings, which amounted to nothing more than bluffs that defendants here were not afraid to call.”

Among the colorful characterizations of counsel’s conduct:

· The case was “nothing more than an illusion”

· “Blatant timeliness defects”

· Citations of “random doctrine in a ‘see what sticks’ approach”

· “Littered his papers and left the court and defendants wasting time chasing unavailing leads and tumbling down legal rabbit holes”

The takeaways are self-evident. Keep clear and accurate time records. Know the tendencies of the presiding judge. And above all, don’t practice black magic in court – at least not in Pennsylvania.


· Citizens Voice

· ABA Journal

· Keister v. PPL Corporation

· ABA Journal

· ABA Journal

About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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