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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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