A district judge yesterday slashed the attorneys’ fees and costs requested by the plaintiffs in the lawsuits over the University’s use of race-conscious admissions policies prior to 2003.
U.S. District Judge Patrick Duggan reduced the total amount the University must pay to all attorneys representing the plaintiffs from the fall of 1997 to June 30, 2004 from more than $2 million to less than $700,000.
Duggan did not rule on a lawsuit that seeks refunds of application fees for all whites and Asians who applied to the University prior to 2003.
“We are gratified that Judge Duggan agreed with the University that the fees requested were excessive. The judge’s opinion clearly reflects a thoughtful analysis of the issues,” said Marvin Krislov, University vice president and general counsel.
The bulk of the reduction in attorneys’ fees and costs was due to the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 decision was only a partial victory for the plaintiffs. The court struck down the University’s point system, which awarded a set number of points to applicants that met certain conditions, including membership in underrepresented minority groups. But the court upheld the University’s use of race as a factor in admissions.
Duggan determined that the plaintiffs were “prevailing parties” and therefore entitled to attorney’s fees and costs. However, he reduced the award by 50 percent to reflect the failure of the plaintiffs to abolish race-conscious admissions at the University altogether.
“While Plaintiffs now attempt to downplay the primacy of their argument that the use of racial preferences in undergraduate admissions always violates the Constitution, the Court agrees with Defendants that Plaintiffs’ main goal in this litigation was to prevail on this issue,” Duggan wrote in his opinion. “The Court therefore finds it appropriate to reduce Plaintiffs’ requested award to reflect that they failed to prevail on this issue.”
Duggan reduced the fees and costs awarded to the law firm of Maslon, Edelman, Borman and Brand by a further 10 percent because of vague billing entries and “block” billing — the itemizing of several tasks completed in a block of time.
“As a result of such ‘block billing,’ the Court is not able to determine the number of hours expended on each discrete task. Thus the Court cannot determine whether the number of hours billed are reasonable,” Duggan wrote.
Duggan determined that some of the attorneys charged the plaintiffs more than the “prevailing market rate” for their services, and he reduced their awards accordingly. He also ruled that some of the attorneys charged excessive hours for travel, media and public relations and services related to intervenors – parties not named in the lawsuits that made arguments on the defendants’ behalf. The fees were reduced 5 percent for Maslon and 10 percent for the Center for Individual Rights, which also represented the plaintiffs, due to unnecessary or redundant services.