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County district to pay intervenors’ fees

by Cynthia Howell | March 27, 2012 at 5:05 a.m.

— A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis on Monday ordered the Pulaski County Special School District to pay nearly $150,000 in legal fees and costs to the class of black students in Pulaski County known as the Joshua intervenors.

In the same order, the appeals court panel directed Arkansas to pay $69,972.66 to the Little Rock School District in legal fees and costs.

Both payments stem from appeals made last year in the wake of U.S. District Judge Brian Miller’s May 19, 2011, decision in which he partially denied the Pulaski County Special district’s motion to be declared unitary, or desegregated, and ordered an immediate end to millions of dollars in state desegregation aid payments to the three Pulaski County school districts.

In a Dec. 28 order based on arguments raised by attorneys for the Joshua intervenors, the8th Circuit panel upheld Miller’s decision against the Pulaski County Special district.

But the panel vacated the part of Miller’s ruling that would have ended desegregation aid to the three districts - a position that the Little Rock district attorneys argued against and the Joshua intervenors supported in an appeal hearing last September.

The Joshua intervenors, who were represented by five attorneys and two paralegals, sought a total of $322,382.50 plus costs of $3,050 for legal work on the two issues of unitary status and state funding.

The attorneys included Rep. John Walker of Little Rock, who charged $400 an hour and Robert Pressman of Lexington, Mass., who charged $325 an hour. The two routinely represent the Joshua intervenors. Three other attorneys were from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., and were based in New York and Washington, D.C.; they charged hourly rates of $350 to $525 an hour.

The 8th Circuit panel concluded in Monday’s decision that the Joshua intervenors were not a prevailing party on the state funding issue but were entitled to payments for arguments regarding unitary status for the Pulaski County Special district.

The court modified the payment request, however.

The court’s award of $149,417.50 to the Joshua intervenors from the Pulaski County Special district included 16.75 hours at $400 an hour for Walker and 90.3 hours at $325 an hour for Pressman. It also included 418.5 hours billed at rates of $175 to $275 an hour for the Legal Defense Fund attorneys plus 130.8 hours at $125 per hour for two paralegals and $3,050 in costs.

“The Pulaski County Special School District is pleased that the original claim ... was greatly reduced,” Pulaski County Special Superintendent Jerry Guess said Monday.

“However, we are disappointed in the sum we are expected to pay as it is a further diversion of funds that could otherwise be used in the day to-day education of our students,” he said. “Still, we will honor the Court of Appeals order and pay those funds when they are due.”

The appeals court panel reduced the Little Rock School District’s initial claim of $92,772.16 in fees and costs from the state by 25 percent to $68,398.50 plus $1,574.16 in costs for a total of $69,972.66.

The court applied the reduction because the Little Rock district did not obtain a ruling for continued state funding based on the circumstances in the case. Instead, the appeals court said funding could not be terminated without notice and a court hearing.

The court approved a $300-an-hour rate for attorney Chris Heller and a $160-per-hour rate for attorney Clay Fendley, who represented the district in the case. Heller typically bills the district a discounted rate of $200 an hour, and Fendley bills the district a discounted rate of $120 an hour.

Front Section, Pages 4 on 03/27/2012

Print Headline: County district to pay intervenors’ fees

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