A federal judge today said he will hold a hearing this month over whether the plaintiffs' lawyers who represent a class of Native American farmers and ranchers should receive $60.8 million in legal fees.
Judge Emmet Sullivan of Washington's federal trial court asked the Justice Department to submit court papers addressing why he should not grant the plaintiffs' request for $60.8 million for their work in steering the litigation to a $760 million settlement.
DOJ Civil Division lawyer Joshua Gardner told Sullivan the government will file the papers in about a week.
DOJ lawyers and the plaintiffs’ team, led by Joseph Sellers of Washington’s Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, agreed in a settlement to a range of fees from $30.4 million to $60.8 million. Last month, Justice attorneys said the plaintiffs’ lawyers should receive $30.4 million for their work in the suit, Keepseagle v. Vilsack, which resolved allegations of discrimination in loan processing.
“There’s a fundamental disagreement between the parties,” Sullivan said during a status hearing today in federal district court in Washington.
In court papers (PDF) filed April 1, Sellers said $60.8 million—8% of the settlement—is “fully justified.” (In addition to Sellers, the plaintiffs’ lawyers include David Frantz of Washington’s Conlon, Frantz & Phelan, Patton Boggs’ Anurag Varma and Sarah Vogel, a solo practitioner in Bismark, N.D.)
“The USDA’s reference to 8% being the ‘top of the range’ the parties agreed to in the settlement is irrelevant,” Sellers said. “The plaintiffs sought an award of fees and costs permitted by the settlement, and the factors by which the fee request must be evaluated all favor the award sought.”
Sullivan, who preliminarily approved the settlement last November, set the legal fee proceeding for April 26, two days before he is scheduled to preside over a hearing to determine the settlement’s fairness.
The claims process will not begin until 60 days after final approval of the settlement. Sellers said in court he is hopeful the process will begin in this summer.