The attorneys who secured a $1.25 billion settlement for black farmers in a high-profile discrimination case in Washington renewed their request Monday for $90.8 million in legal fees, the highest amount allowed in the deal.
The lead class counsel filed an updated fee petition in Washington's federal trial court, arguing that the amount constitutes "fair and appropriate compensation for the enormous amount of work class counsel have performed" and for the results achieved in the deal.
The settlement, which Congress approved in November 2010 and the president signed off on that December, provides money to tens of thousands of black farmers who missed out on an earlier deal with the U.S. Department of Agriculture over claims of discrimination in loan processing.
The lead class attorneys—Crowell & Moring's Andrew Marks; Henry Sanders of Chestnut, Sanders, Sanders, Pettaway & Campbell in Alabama; and Gregorio Francis of Orlando's Morgan & Morgan—said claim assistance has been provided to more than 25,000 people between November 2011 and May 2012. The process is ongoing.
"The complexity of the settlement agreement that was reached demonstrates the skill level required by counsel to establish terms that would ensure that the claims of class members are resolved fairly, efficiently and with integrity," the plaintiffs lawyers wrote in their fee petition.
The Justice Department has said in court papers in the litigation that the government opposes an award of $90.8 million in fees. The settlement, which received a judge's final approval in 2011, mandates that the plaintiffs lawyers will receive money until the claims process is complete and successful class members receive compensation.
In the updated fee petition, the plaintiffs lawyers said they conducted 380 group meetings in 66 cities during the claims process. The petition said class counsel have reported more than 80,000 attorney hours in litigation and in the implementation of the claims process.
Marks, Sanders and Francis described the process as "a model of fairness, efficiency and integrity, and an extraordinary culmination of the years of work class counsel have devoted to obtaining meaningful relief for members of the class."
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman last year approved the settlement, kicking off the claims process. The settlement set the fee award between 4.1 percent and 7.4 percent.
Friedman noted last year that, at one point, Congress had only allocated $100 million to fund claims from black farmers. (Congress later pushed up the amount to $1.25 billion.)
If the funding had remained at $100 million, Friedman said, "the more than forty attorneys acting as class counsel would have been left to scramble for any fees that could be eked out of a fund vastly insufficient to pay all claims against it." The payment of any fees, the judge said, could have been delayed for years.
"This litigation was no sure bet for plaintiffs' lawyers," Friedman said.
The law firm and solo practitioners in the case have a separate counsel participation agreement to divide up any fee award. Crowell is in the group that would keep and divide 75 percent up any fee award.