Efforts to build a museum in Washington memorializing the mass killings of Armenians during World War I have been stalled since the early 2000s, but attorneys involved in years-long litigation surrounding the project's failure are one step closer to being paid.
Litigation over who was to blame for the lack of progress pitted a group of museum trustees against Minnesota philanthropist Gerard Cafesjian, who donated millions of dollars towards the project and was deeply involved in planning for several years. The Armenian Assembly of America sued Cafesjian for breach of fiduciary duty in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
A Washington federal judge ruled in Cafesjian's favor last year, but fights over attorney fees and allegations of legal malfeasance have persisted. Following a hearing last month on the attorney fees dispute, U.S. District Magistrate Judge Alan Kay issued a report (PDF) yesterday recommending $1.4 million be paid to Cafesjian's legal team, which was led by attorneys from Jones Day.
The report wasn’t a complete win for either side. U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled that the museum group was responsible for paying Cafesjian’s attorneys for work they did responding to the lawsuit, but not for any counterclaims Cafesjian brought. Kay was asked to review each side’s position on fees and make a recommendation to Kollar-Kotelly, who will make the final decision.
Cafesjian’s legal team argued that they should be entitled to 67 percent of the nearly $4 million in fees and other costs they logged on the case. The museum trustees countered that they should only have to pay 19 percent of those costs.
Kay sided with Cafesjian’s legal team on the issue of hourly rates, finding that the museum should pay Jones Day’s hourly rates, which are higher than the rates listed in fee guidelines for complex federal litigation known as the Laffey Matrix. The museum group’s by-laws don’t cap the amount of attorney fees the organization might owe to former trustees sued over their work, Kay wrote, and he also noted that the trustees used a firm that also bills high rates, K&L Gates.
But Kay wrote that he didn’t agree with either sides’ proposed amount, instead recommending that the museum trustees pay 50 percent of Cafesjian’s attorney fees and costs, coming to just over $1.4 million.
Kay wrote that some of the Cafesjian legal team’s practices were “unreasonable,” such as billing too many hours for writing briefs, billing for research by summer associates that may have been unnecessary and bringing in another firm from Minnesota.
“[The museum] is grateful that Judge Kay has reduced the fee from almost $3 million to less than $1.5 million,” the museum trustees' lead attorney, Eric Abraham of Hill Wallack in Princeton, N.J., wrote in an e-mail on Wednesday. “We think there are substantial further reductions and will ask Judge Kollar-Kotelly to make those adjustments.”
The museum is also moving for a new trial, arguing that they have new evidence that Cafesjian promised to pay a witness to testify in his favor at trial.
Cafesjian’s lead attorney, Cozen O’Connor attorney John Williams, said that his team is “happy now to have it quantified.” Williams was with Jones Day until January.