This past August, brothers Mike and Alec Sou faced trial on charges of forced labor of Thai workers recruited to work on Aloun Farms in 2004 and 2005. Chief U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Molloway presided over the case. In 2010, the Sou brothers pled guilty to a subset of charges in a plea agreement, but later withdrew their guilty pleas after Judge Molloway rejected the deal.
The charges were dismissed on August 4, 2011, after only four days of trial. The dismissal resulted from the Department of Justice’s lead attorney’s incorrect instruction to the grand jury regarding the legality of recruitment fees. The jury was instructed that recruitment fees were illegal, when in fact they were not yet illegal in 2004 and 2005. Judge Molloway dismissed the charges with prejudice.
On November 4, 2011, attorneys for the Sou brothers sought $500,000 in compensation from the government: $400,000 in attorneys’ fees and $100,000 in other costs. The Hyde Amendment allows a court to award a prevailing defendant a reasonable attorney’s fee and other litigation expenses when the federal prosecution was vexatious, frivolous or in bad faith. However, the Department of Justice argued that the charges could not have been frivolous since the defendants had already admitted guilt to a number of the charges.
Judge Molloway expressed reservations in granting the award for defendants’ attorneys’ fees. She also found it difficult to find the government’s case so frivolous as to “warrant the granting of fees and costs when the Sou brothers had earlier pleaded guilty to a forced-labor charge”.
Judge Molloway has yet to decide whether or not to grant the Sou brothers’ motion for attorneys’ fees. If she does decide to award attorney’s fees, another hearing will be held to determine the actual amount of fees and costs to be awarded.