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Using Legal Fees as a Sword in Litigation?

A lawsuit challenging the validity of a controversial immigration ordinance may cost the city of Fremont, Nebraska upwards of $700,000 in plaintiffs’ legal fees, the Lincoln Journal Star reported last week.

Voters passed the ordinance into law in an effort to “crackdown on employers who hire people not lawfully present in the United States and the landlords who rent to them.” Affected parties, including landlords and tenants, joined with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Defense and Legal Education Fund, who then filed suit to challenge the ordinance in Federal Court.

After the District Court Judge rendered a split decision, striking down some provisions of the ordinance while upholding others, attorneys for the plaintiffs submitted a fee request to the court on the basis of being the prevailing party.

The submitted bill includes over 900 hours worked by two attorneys from the ACLU’s San Francisco Office at a rate of $390 per hour, adding up to over $350,000.

In response to questions over the fees, one of the ACLU lawyers defended her rates, stating that there was a message to be drawn: “[A] city thinking about enacting these kinds of immigration ordinances will have to take into account that they may be faced with substantial bills at the end of the day.”

The story serves as an important reminder of the tactical considerations implicated by legal billing. However, no matter who will ultimately foot the bill, requests for fees and expenses will be subject to judicial review for reasonableness.

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