The lawyers who fought out the landmark Supreme Court case over D.C.'s handgun ban today declined any further mediation to resolve a dispute over the attorney fees demanded by the prevailing plaintiffs' attorneys.
Ever since the 2008 win in the high court, the plaintiffs' attorneys, including Alan Gura of Alexandria, Va.'s Gura & Possessky, have been fighting in Washington federal district court for attorneys fees, which the plaintiffs estimate at more than $3.5 million. The dispute was first referred to mediation in November 2008, according to court records.
The topic of mediation came up today at a status conference before Judge Emmet Sullivan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Sullivan inquired whether he could “twist” the arms of the lawyers to return to mediation.
“Your honor, I would love to settle this,” Gura said. “But we need a partner to negotiate.” A lawyer for the District, Andrew Saindon of the D.C. Office of the Attorney General, did not respond in court to Gura’s remark. Gura also said the District has made a political decision not to pay him fees—a contention that lawyers for the city said is meritless.
Lawyers for the city filed for a protective order last month to prohibit Gura from seeking discovery on the District’s expenses in defending the handgun ban. Saindon said in court papers earlier this month that the city’s outside counsel—including attorneys from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Covington & Burling and O’Melveny & Myers—served pro bono. Moreover, he said, the private attorneys’ contracts with the District did not require them to provide billing records.
In a May 21 court filing, Gura responded that the city was raising the pro bono service for the first time. “These attorneys’ billing rates and records are relevant to the determination of the value of the legal work performed, whether that value was donated, borrowed, or paid for,” he said. The District, he said, has "a right to demand of its attorneys information about the value of their time, as well as records of what those attorneys are doing on its behalf.”
Sullivan today did not rule on the District’s request for a protective order. He asked the lawyers to file additional pleadings regarding the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in April in Perdue v. Kenny A. In that case, the Court rejected a $4.5 million fee enhancement, but also said judges in rare and well-documented circumstances may award fee enhancements above the “lodestar” amount to lawyers in civil rights disputes.