Judge Goodwin has opportunity to combat negative stereotypes of lawyers

By The West Virginia Record | Mar 18, 2011

Poor Judge Joseph Goodwin is facing a "perception" problem again.

Last fall, when the U.S. District Judge reduced attorney fees from 25 to 20 percent in a $34 million settlement, he wondered aloud if he should not have reduced fees still further.

"This fee," Judge Goodwin conceded, "though less than the requested amount, may still appear excessive to non-lawyers and may perpetuate negative stereotypes about the legal profession."

The 25-percent fee requested would have translated to an hourly rate roughly four times the standard, but the 20-percent fee wasn't chump change either – and the standard isn't exactly chicken feed.

"Because of the damage caused by the perception of overcompensation of attorneys in class action suits, lawyers requesting attorneys' fees and judges reviewing those requests must exercise heightened vigilance to ensure the fees in fact are reasonable beyond reproach and worthy of our justice system," Goodwin counseled, while seeming to ignore his own advice.

The negative stereotypes "are not only harmful to the legal profession," Judge Goodwin warned, "but undermine the integrity of the entire legal system." His excessive fee grant seemed to solidify the negative stereotypes, critics say.

Goodwin gets another go at decrying negative stereotypes about overpaid plaintiffs attorneys when he responds to their request for $6 million in fees in a $10-13 million settlement of claims over heart medicine Digitek.

Judge Goodwin should not allow the lack of specificity in plaintiff lawyer record-keeping -- such as unitemized claims from separate firms for travel and meal expenses of $7,848.39, $11,288.71, $15,425, and $45,925.57.

He can cut bloated fees rates of $550 per hour, and ask hard questions about the billing of 3,534.65 hours by just one attorney?

Judge Goodwin should follow his own counsel and slash the fees and expenses to an acceptable level so as not to "perpetuate negative stereotypes about the legal profession."

If he threw out the judgment altogether that also might be appropriate as the most victimized party in the suit seems to be the defendants. And in the long run, the consumer--you-- pay for those bloated fees.

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