The District of Columbia Court of Appeals and the National Conference of Bar Examiners will pay $131,000 in legal fees to attorneys for Cathryn Bonnette, a legally blind Virginia woman who sued to take the D.C. Bar exam using her preferred computer program.
After winning a preliminary injunction in July to take the exam using the special software, Bonnette passed and was sworn in to the D.C. Bar in December. The lawsuit became moot at that point, but the parties went to mediation to decide how to handle attorney fees.
According to a status report (PDF) filed today, Bonnette’s attorneys at Brown, Goldstein & Levy in Baltimore will earn $131,000. The appeals court has agreed to pay $55,000 and the conference will pay $76,000, according to a proposed order submitted to U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.
Daniel Goldstein, the lead attorney representing Bonnette, called it “a reasonable agreement.”
“I hope that the time comes when these kinds of accommodations can be granted without the necessity of litigation,” he said. Bonnette could not immediately be reached.
District of Columbia Court of Appeals Chief Judge Eric Washington referred questions about the fee agreement to the city’s Office of the Attorney General, which represented the court. An office spokesman declined to comment on the agreement.
“It was my understanding that the court was certainly prepared to make every accommodation the court could make,” Washington said when asked about the case. “But the one accommodation she wanted was one over which we had no control.”
Lead counsel for the conference, Robert Burgoyne of Fulbright & Jaworski in Washington, said that, “We’re happy to have that particular lawsuit behind us and move forward.”
Bonnette sued (PDF) the conference and the court in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in June 2011, claiming that by refusing to let her use her preferred software on part of the exam, they failed to make reasonable accommodations as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The appeals court administers the test, which is developed and published by the National Conference of Bar Examiners. The exam has three parts – the Multistate Bar Exam, the Multistate Performance Test and the Multistate Essay Examination. At issue in Bonnette’s case was the Multistate Bar Exam, a multiple-choice test. The conference claimed it already offered alternative versions and was abiding by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In granting the preliminary injunction (PDF), Kollar-Kotelly wrote that the accommodations listed in the ADA were meant to be “illustrative, not exhaustive.”