The expected disagreement over John Walker's legal fee | Arkansas Blog

The expected disagreement over John Walker's legal fee


JOHN WALKER: His fee to be decided by federal judge.
  • JOHN WALKER: His fee to be decided by federal judge.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette headlined on page one today a sentence in a court filing that forecasts a development everyone had been expecting since parties reached an agreement on settling the Pulaski County desegregation case.

The settlement provided $500,000 in legal fees for the Joshua intervenors — at a minimum. It provided that  amount,  “unless contested, in which event the Court may award a reasonable fee.”

The Joshua intervenors are black families, the people about whom the lawsuit has always been about. Civil rights lawyer John Walker is the lead lawyer, but not the only one who'll be paid.

I don't think it's exactly precise to say that a legal fee dispute "created" a rift. The  disagreement on fees was anticipated from the outset.

The parties always expected there to be a request for a higher award from the Joshua attorneys. The attorney general always expected to object. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel went into the highly contentious and complicated settlement talks knowing that one difficult hurdle to jump would be legislative approval. Had he gone before the Legislative Council with a number of what Walker and his colleagues hoped to get — a much higher figure than $500,000 — the very mention of it could have exploded the whole deal. Walker is not a beloved figure when it comes to discussion of the desegregation case, though he is now a member of the Arkansas House.

It was a smart settlement and hardly gave away the ranch to Walker. Any enhanced fee will be determined by federal Judge Price Marshall. Given his careful history, he's not likely to give a runaway award. It will be based on hours submitted and quality of the work and perhaps some militating factors. Whatever happens, state legislators and Dustin McDaniel can blame him. And, who knows, Marshall might not add a dime to the agreed payment.

A  Little Rock law firm has been working in Walker's behalf to craft a fee request for Walker. They are likely to argue, in addition to the long years of work, many of them uncompensated for extended periods before periodic fee awards, that litigation such as this doesn't draw high interest among lawyers. Those who take the work can become reviled. Some of the pleading we'll eventually see is likely to argue that hours alone don't determine what the judge should award. The record is abundant — this morning's front page story one bit of evidence — that lawyers who enter this arena face more than legal research as part of the territory.

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