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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. I expressed my thought in the title, long as it was. I am shocked that there is ever immunity from accountability for ANY Government agency. That appears to violate every principle in the US Constitution, which exists to limit Government power and to ensure Government accountability. I don't know how many cases of legitimate child abuse exist, but in the few cases in which I knew the people involved, in every example an anonymous caller used DCS as their personal weapon to strike at innocent people over trivial disagreements that had no connection with any facts. Given that the system is vulnerable to abuse, and given the extreme harm any action by DCS causes to families, I would assume any degree of failure to comply with the smallest infraction of personal rights would result in mandatory review. Even one day of parent-child separation in the absence of reasonable cause for a felony arrest should result in severe penalties to those involved in the action. It appears to me, that like all bureaucracies, DCS is prone to interpret every case as legitimate. This is not an accusation against DCS. It is a statement about the nature of bureaucracies, and the need for ADDED scrutiny of all bureaucratic actions. Frankly, I question the constitutionality of bureaucracies in general, because their power is delegated, and therefore unaccountable. No Government action can be unaccountable if we want to avoid its eventual degeneration into irrelevance and lawlessness, and the law of the jungle. Our Constitution is the source of all Government power, and it is the contract that legitimizes all Government power. To the extent that its various protections against intrusion are set aside, so is the power afforded by that contract. Eventually overstepping the limits of power eliminates that power, as a law of nature. Even total tyranny eventually crumbles to nothing.

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