Lawyer fees 'cut' to $2,130 an hour

By The West Virginia Record | Mar 13, 2009

U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin conceded the case wasn't very complex. It didn't involve much conflict, and the plaintiff's lawyers only briefed two motions in a year of litigation.

But he still ok'd $10.1 million in fees and expenses for the lawyers leading a class action lawsuit against energy giant Dominion Transmission.

The plaintiff's lawyers deserved it, in part, because they exhibited "cooperative spirit," Goodwin said.

Then the judge gushed, "Class counsel performed their duties zealously and collegially."

No autographs were sought from the bench.

The five plaintiffs lawyers -- including Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis' husband, Scott Segal -- had asked the court for $15 million in fees out of the $50 million dollar settlement which amounts to about $1,600 each for the oil and gas owners and lessors who were the victims.

But Judge Goodwin cut the fees by $5 million to make it more "reasonable."

Class member Ann Shreve Norris had protested the "exorbitant" fees by Segal and company, suggesting their price indicates they "are not doing this for the public good but only as a way to increase their wealth."

In his opinion, Judge Goodwin took a moment to console her. "I share Ms. Norris' concerns about the trend towards excessive attorneys' fees in class actions," the judge wrote.

Then he tried to explain that part of the real problem is public perception. We non-lawyers believe a $10 million fee in a case such as this is outrageous. But we simple laymen just don't understand: these class action lawyers are worth it.

Consider that the five plaintiff's lawyers sharing $10 million had to endure eight -- count them, eight -- mediation sessions with lawyers from Dominion. They were "hard-fought" and "time-intensive," Judge Goodwin assures us. And that was only a portion of the 4,694 hours the lawyers assert -- scout's honor -- they worked on the case.

Give the tireless plaintiff lawyers credit for each and every one of those exhausting hours. Then do the math.

That's $2,130 per hour after the "cut" to make it fair.

For leaders of West Virginia's class action bar, it was another day at the office.

What recession, they must wonder.

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