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Circuit Court upholds attorney-fee reduction

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals wasn't swayed by an attorney's arguments that the amount of attorney's fees he was entitled to shouldn't have been reduced by nearly $90,000.

In James and Christy Gastineau v. David M. Wright and Wright & Lerch, No. 09-1003, the Gastineaus' attorney Robert Duff appealed the District Court's corrected order on the Gastineaus' motions for attorney's fees. Duff was the third attorney to work on their Fair Debt Collection Practices Act case, in which he negotiated a final settlement of $45,000. He wanted $140,000 in fees, but the District Court reduced it to $52,000 after evaluating Duff's experience and performance.

Duff claimed the judge erred in determining a reasonable fee by reducing his billable hour rate from $250 to $150 based on his lack of experience and claimed the reduction in the number of hours billed constituted an impermissible double penalty.

The Circuit judges agreed with the District Court's ruling, finding the deduction was warranted. Duff joined the case three years after the action began and was the third attorney to work on the case, so he came on after substantial discovery work and motions practice was completed. He was also inexperienced with FDCPA actions, so the District Court found it was inappropriate to bill for learning this area of law. An attorney also testified Duff's rates were high for that area of law.

"This is clearly the case of an experienced district judge that considered the various factors in setting a reasonable attorney's fee and provided a sufficient explanation," wrote Judge Michael Kanne.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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