Monday, September 17, 2007

Civil Rights Attorney Fees for DWT?

Billing in "pro bono" cases is fodder for ethics debate, Seattle Times, Sept. 17, 2007.

Davis Wright Tremaine is seeking attorneys fees in the school desegregation case. (See earlier post.)

Is it cricket for a firm to say it's taking a case pro bono and then seek fees from the defendant? DWT says yes: "pro bono" means that the clients didn't have to pay. Making a government pay fees creates a disincentive for governments to deprive people of their civil rights.

Some say it's OK to get the fees as long as they're turned over to charity.

Some say that it would be too bad to take money away from the school district's educational mission. But isn't that always the case with civil rights cases and fees? When a government has to pay attorney's fees to the successful plaintiffs, then that money isn't available for government services. When civil rights plaintiffs get attorney's fees from a police department or prison or DSHS, then the money can't be used for better policing, better conditions for prisoners, or better health care and social services.

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