- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The grandmother of a teenager who was fatally shot while under the District’s care won a $72,000 jury verdict against the D.C. government in 2003, but the total cost to taxpayers is approaching $1 million, court records show.

For more than three years, attorneys for Minnie Smith have sought more than $1.2 million in fees and expenses from the D.C. government for their work in a negligence suit she filed after the shooting death of her grandson, Tron Lindsey.

The District has fought the request, saying it is “excessive.”

The plaintiff’s attorneys said the “relatively modest” judgment should not hinder payment for their legal costs.

They said the case was complicated, involved basic civil rights issues, took more than two years to litigate and required thousands of hours of work. The fatal shooting remains unsolved.

At the time that 17-year-old Tron and his roommate were fatally shot April 28, 1999, Tron had been placed in an independent-living program run by the District after serving time at the Oak Hill Youth Center.

The civil rights lawsuit brought on behalf of Tron’s estate said the District showed “deliberate indifference” in monitoring the program for older delinquent youths in the city’s custody.

Months after a federal jury awarded Miss Smith $72,000, her attorneys filed an application for legal fees and expenses totaling more than $1.2 million.

Smith attorney W. Gary Kohlman noted that federal law permits attorney fees that range much higher than the award.

“Otherwise, civil rights violations would go unredressed for reasons having nothing to do with the merits of the claim,” he argued in court pleadings. “The relatively modest damages award of $72,000 does not undercut the conclusion the plaintiff achieved a level of success.”

Mr. Kohlman and other attorneys had sought $1,215,973 in compensation for lawyers, paralegals and clerks, as well as $89,125 in expenses, court records show.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler cut the pay sought for legal work by 25 percent, reducing overall compensation for attorneys, paralegals and clerks to $911,980.

“In this case, that relationship between an award of $72,000 and a requested award of fees and expenses of slightly more than $1.3 million simply cannot be justified,” she wrote in a 19-page opinion on Dec. 18.

However, Judge Kessler said it wouldn’t have been surprising to see the jury award a multimillion-dollar verdict in the case.

The judge said jurors “know that their awards are paid from our city treasury — the very city treasury that their taxes support and that is obligated to provide a whole spectrum of essential municipal services, not just for delinquent and abused children.”

Judge Kessler also noted that the case was “fully, fairly, vigorously and extremely professionally litigated by counsel on both sides.”

It is not clear whether attorneys on either side plan to appeal Judge Kessler’s ruling. In previous filings, attorneys for the District have sharply opposed the request for fees.

Earlier this year, Assistant Attorney General George Valentine called the case “overstaffed and counsel’s record keeping woefully inadequate.”

D.C. attorneys also have argued that the requested fees would result in “an imperishable windfall” for the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

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