Numerous federal statutes allow successful litigants to recover their attorney fees. But does the amount you recover change when you represent a very unpopular plaintiff?
I found myself asking this question in light of the recent decision in Ancona v. Templeton, Case No. 4:10CV626 (E.D. Mo. Sept. 20, 2012). In the case, Frank Ancona, an Imperial Wizard of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, obtained a temporary restraining order requiring the Missouri Division of Parks to allow the KKK to use a state park. After some additional litigation not relevant here, Ancona sought to recover attorney fees for his counsel, who were from the ACLU as well as private firm.
The court awarded Ancona approximately $43K in attorney fees, but trimmed off about $4K in fees after finding his private-practice lawyer's rate was too high. The court also reduced the fee recovery another $4K after concluding some billing was duplicative.
My initial question was whether this fee haircut was because Ancona was an Imperial Wizard in the KKK.
Having done some poking around, I now suspect the actual key was the very low rate sought by the head of the St. Louis ACLU. Tony Rothert--the Legal Director at the ACLU of Eastern Missouri--was lead counsel for Ancona, has 16 years experience, and sought only $225 per hour. This seems quite low. In fact, it is less than the lowest Kramer Levin paralegal rate discussed in the Campbell v. Mark Hotel case (see my 9/21 post).
But it likely doomed the attempt of Mr. Rothert's more experienced co-counsel, private practitioner Robert King, to recover $400 per hour. Instead, the Court recalculated Ancona's fee request using $225 as King's rate, reducing Ancona's fee recovery by about $4000.