Justice Department lawyers have asked a federal judge to reject the demand from four Native American class representatives for $13 million in personal awards for their involvement in landmark suit in Washington federal district court.
DOJ attorneys called the request for incentive awards and expenses in Cobell v. Salazar “grossly excessive” in court papers filed last week. On top of the incentive award, lawyers for lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell are seeking $224 million in legal fees and expenses, an amount the government opposes. A copy of the plaintiffs' fee request is here.
Government lawyers said the class representatives, including Cobell, want $10.5 million in expenses. DOJ said the demand for expenses goes against promises lawyers for the class representatives made during settlement talks in 2009. The plaintiffs’ attorneys, DOJ lawyers said, agreed not to ask for more than $99.9 million in fees, expenses and costs.
“They do not even attempt to justify the huge sums sought,” DOJ Civil Division attorney Robert Kirschman Jr. said in court papers [.pdf]. “Instead, the petition presents a bill for millions of dollars in unsupported litigation expenses paid by others, such as expert witness fees, process servers, and transcript costs, all of which ought to be covered by the attorney fee award, if recoverable at all.”
The government, Kirschman said, does not dispute that Cobell has “labored extensively on behalf of other class members.” Click here for Cobell’s request for an incentive award. In court papers, lawyers for the class discussed how the representatives “persevered through more than fourteen years of uniquely hostile litigation” to achieve a “stunning victory” for individual Indian trust beneficiaries. Earlier coverage of the case is here, here and here.
Certain expenses are not covered in litigation, DOJ lawyers said. Justice attorneys said class representatives should not be awarded expenses for political and lobbying activity, public relations firms and media consultants and overheard charges for rent, electricity and insurance. “Even sundry items like bottled water and cleaning supplies creep into their unwieldy and unjustified tally of expenses,” DOJ lawyers said.
The government’s lawyers said Cobell’s attorneys have failed to explain why the requested incentive award is needed to encourage other plaintiffs to step up as class representatives. DOJ lawyers said the “enormous size” of the requested award in the Cobell case poses a risk that potential plaintiffs in other cases “will assert class claims because of the huge profit incentive rather than primarily a desire to do good.”
A majority of the participants in the suit, which include two classes, are expected to receive about $1,800 each, depending on the final number of class members, according to the Justice Department.
Senior Judge Thomas Hogan has the final say on attorneys fees and any incentive award for class representatives. A fairness hearing is scheduled for June 20.