Lawyers for the District of Columbia residents who successfully challenged the city's ban on handguns were in court today defending their request for nearly $3.13 million in legal fees and costs.
Alan Gura, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, urged a Washington federal trial judge to award the team the prevailing market value for attorneys who handle complex federal litigation. Gura called the fee request reasonable, citing his efficiency and his overall success in the case.
In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court in D.C. v. Heller struck down the city’s handgun ban in a ruling that recognized an individual’s right to own a firearm. Gura of Alexandria, Va.’s Gura & Possessky has represented lead plaintiff Dick Heller since the suit was filed in 2003 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Gura argued in the high court for Heller.
Lawyers for the District said in court papers that a reasonable fee for Gura and the team of plaintiffs’ attorneys, including Clark Neily III and Laura Possessky, is about $722,000.
In court today, Gura complained about what he called “unanticipated” delay that lawyers for the District caused. Gura cited the District’s repeated requests for time extensions in responding to certain pleadings and in deciding the next steps in the litigation. “I would not have guessed it would have taken this long to get paid,” Gura said.
Gura’s fee request includes compensation for six attorneys and about 3,300 hours. Click here for the fee petition. He said there is “nothing in the request that is not fairly plain and straight forward.”
In court today, Judge Emmet Sullivan questioned whether he should take into account the District’s finances in deciding how much Gura and the plaintiffs’ lawyers should be paid from taxpayer money.
Gura argued against any consideration, telling Sullivan he should not be a position that requires him to assess the city’s budget priorities. Sullivan should base his fee ruling on an objective analysis of market rates and performance, Gura said.
Samuel Kaplan of the District’s Office of the Attorney General argued the plaintiffs’ team had failed to prove why they should receive compensation on par with major law firms in the District. Kaplan called the gun litigation complicated but not complex, a term he reserved for class actions.
Kaplan said Gura’s team did not build the case from scratch, relying instead on what he called decades of scholarly literature on the Second Amendment.
The District’s lawyers urged Sullivan to use the so-called “Laffey Matrix” in determining the hourly rate for Gura and the plaintiffs’ attorneys. Sullivan called that scheme, prepared by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, “bargain basement” when it comes to attorney fees. That matrix, the judge said, “only goes so far.”
Gura asked Sullivan to use a matrix developed by economist Michael Kavanaugh to establish the rates. Gura called the “Kavanaugh Matrix” a more accurate reflection of hourly rates in the District than the scheme the government prepared.
Sullivan did not immediately rule on Gura’s fee petition.