United States District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan has awarded $1,132,182 in legal fees to the lawyers who worked on the landmark Supreme Court case, District of Columbia v. Heller. In 2003, Dick Heller sued the District of Columbia for its ban on handgun ownership. The United States Supreme Court ultimately ruled in 2008 that such ban violated the Second Amendment, forcing the District of Columbia to rewrite its gun laws.
The six attorneys who worked on Heller requested compensation in the amount of $3.1 million, while the D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan argued that $840,166 was a reasonable fee. In Judge Sullivan’s 65-page opinion, the district court provided detailed calculations of the fair market rate for comparable legal work. Heller’s lead attorney, Alan Gura, was ultimately awarded “approximately $662,000 for more than 1,500 hours of work on the case, paying him at a rate of $420 per hour.” The hourly rates of the other attorneys assigned to the case were reduced to a range of $275 to $420 per hour as well.
The district court heeded to what it referred to as a “special caution,” given that the District of Columbia is the party responsible for paying the attorneys’ fees. Acknowledging the “incentive” for attorneys’ to inflate their legal bills because of the government’s “deep pockets,” the court stated that it remained “[s]ensitive to the fact that the fees in this case will be paid by taxpayers.” Thus, after careful scrutiny, the district court determined that a $1.1 million attorneys’ fee award—approximately one-third of the requested amount—was reasonable.
See Heller v. District of Columbia, 2011 WL 6826278 (D.D.C. 2011).