A relator’s attempt to recover legal fees has prompted Chief Judge Royce Lamberth, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, to issue an opinion lambasting amounts charged by Wilmer Hale and Wiley Rein, and attaching 74 pages of appendices outlining their billing rates — and reductions the court is making to them.
Richard Miller requested $9.9 million in fees plus enhancements that brought the total amount to $20 million. Lamberth cut that amount to $7.5 million.
UPDATE: William Perlstein, co-managing partner of Wilmer Hale, says that because the case took over 13 years to reach a conclusion, the enhancement was warranted. Perlstein says the case is still a substantial success regardless of Lambert denying the enhancement.
In 2007, Miller won a $90 million False Claims Act suit against E. Roy Anderson, Harbert Corporation, Harbert International Inc., Bill Harbert International Construction Inc., Bilhar International Establishment, and Harbert Construction Services.
Lamberth’s 95-page opinion, available here, includes the detailed billing rate information. It’s also laden with footnotes that showcases Lamberth’s wit and allows him to detail exactly why the $20 million Miller asked for is unnecessarily high. When Miller tries to say that Wilmer Hale went out of its way to keep the number of attorneys working on the case as low as possible, Lamberth retorts, “First, to paraphrase [Harbert Corporation’s] Opposition, by no rational definition of the term do fifty-two attorneys constitute a ‘small’ team of lawyers.”
Lamberth also dismisses the idea that because some of Wilmer Hale’s associates performed beyond their paygrade, they should be compensated at a rate that identifies their “superior skill levels.”
“This Court heartily agrees that relator’s counsel generally, and the more junior team members in particular, performed at a consistently high standard throughout this litigation. Nothing in this opinion should be read as dismissing Wilmer Hale associates' outstanding written and oral advocacy for their client. They are to be commended. Similarly, young partners O'Connor and Cedarbaum acquitte themselves creditably in their leadership roles. But as this Court observed above, Wilmer Hale’s established billing rates are ‘reasonable’ precisely because they align with those of other highly skilled attorneys in the District of Columbia legal community. Simply put, these superstars already bill at superstar rates,” Lamberth writes.
Lawyers from Wilmer Hale and Wiley Rein represented Miller in this case, too.