$6.7 Million Legal Fee Request Trimmed to $4.4 Million in Arizona Racial Profiling Case

Posted on October 15th, 2014 by Legal Fee Advisors

Arizona U.S. District Court Judge Grant Murray Snow issued a ruling on September 11, 2014, awarding $4.4 million in legal fees to attorneys who won a racial profiling case against Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. [1]The award will be split amongst four plaintiffs groups who collectively helped prove that the Sherriff’s Office had discriminated against Latinos in their patrolling operations by unfairly singling out Latino drivers for traffic stops on the basis of their ethnicity.[2] It should be noted that Plaintiff’s original fee request of $6.7 million was already discounted from the initial estimate of $7.3 million. It is no surprise that “defense attorneys representing the Sheriff’s Office balked at what they considered to be an excessive figure.”[3]

In opposition to the hefty fee request, defendants sought a 30% reduction in fees arguing that “plaintiffs’ attorneys hourly rates were unreasonable,” that they “had double-billed multiple attorneys for the same tasks” and that they had engaged in “block billing,” which is the prohibited practice of lumping multiple tasks under one billing entry.[4] Additionally, defendants argued that the plaintiff’s use of an out of state firm further increased the legal fees because they spent “extensive resources playing catch-up.”[5] In their defense, plaintiffs responded by saying that they had exhausted their efforts to find an Arizona firm to take the case.

At the end of the day, the Judge’s decision awarding $4.4 million in legal fees is viewed as a victory for both sides. Plaintiffs’ attorneys are relieved to finally be compensated for their work and reimbursed for their expenses on the case while defense attorneys are gratified that the reduction will save county taxpayers a significant amount of money which is accounted to duplication and inefficiencies of plaintiffs’ counsel. The Sheriff’s Office lead attorney, Tim Casey, commented that “we’re gratified that the court substantially trimmed the fat from the plaintiff’s application.”

In light of the above, this case highlights some very important issues concerning legal billing. First, it points out the importance of maintaining real time billing procedures since block billing is viewed by some companies as a shield to conceal how much time is being spent on a task and gives the inference that lawyers may be overbilling for simple tasks if the time is not broken down properly. Ultimately, real time billing procedures such as keeping contemporaneous itemized bills with distinct time entries for each specific task will eliminate the inherent problems of block billing. Second, it questions the notion of hiring an out of state firm and the implications that may have on the overall costs of litigation such as increased travel expenses and time expended researching and complying with local rules of civil procedure. Lastly, it emphasizes that above all else, hourly rates, staffing and the amount of time spent working on a matter must be reasonable.

A. Vays

Legal Fee Advisors © 2014

[1]Megan, Cassidy (September 11, 2014). “MCSO racial-profiling case: Plaintiff attorneys awarded $4.4 million”
The Republic. Retrieved September 12, 2014

[2] Id.

[3] Megan, Cassidy (August 26, 2014). “Defense, plaintiffs in MCSO racial profiling suit square off over fees”
The Republic. Retrieved September 12, 2014

[4] Id.


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