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Silent settlement doesn't include fees, costs

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A federal judge rejected a northern Indiana sheriff's argument that a settlement agreement in a civil rights case includes attorney's fees and costs when the agreement doesn't say anything on the issue.

In a Dec. 30 order from Chief Judge Robert L. Miller Jr. of the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division, St. Joseph County Sheriff Frank Canarecci Jr. claimed a $75,000 settlement reached between the sheriff and the relatives of a jail inmate who killed himself included attorney's fees for the plaintiffs even though the settlement stated nothing about the matter.

Relatives of inmate Gregory Zick sued Canarecci and 26 other defendants in 2005 after Zick committed suicide while in jail in 2003. Summary judgment was granted to all the defendants on the federal claims, except for an Eighth Amendment claim against Canarecci. The parties settled in the summer of 2009 before the issue went to trial. Cathy Minix and Steven Zick, Gregory Zick's mother and brother, filed a motion for nearly $745,000 in attorney's fees and costs.

Chief Judge Miller denied Canarecci's motion to strike in Cathy Minix and Steven Zick v. Sheriff Frank Canarecci Jr., et al., No. 3:05-CV-144, because there was no evidence the parties' settlement was intended to include attorney's fees and costs. Canarecci argued that a court could assume a settlement agreement in a civil rights case that didn't spell out attorney's fees and costs automatically included them in the settlement. Chief Judge Miller noted the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has yet to take up this question.

"To assume that an agreement such as this one was meant to include attorney's fees and costs would run counter to Congress' policy of awarding attorney's fees to private attorneys general," wrote Judge Miller.

The judge also rejected the request for almost $750,000 in attorney's fees and costs because the plaintiffs' application fell below the level of specificity required by Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 434. The plaintiffs weren't specific enough in the amount of hours worked by the attorneys or expert witness fees on only the Eighth Amendment claim. Chief Judge Miller allowed the plaintiffs leave to re-file their motion within 10 days of the order "with a more reasonable request and with more reliable yardsticks by which the court may determine their award."

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  1. A sad end to a prolific gadfly. Indiana has suffered a great loss in the journalistic realm.

  2. Good riddance to this dangerous activist judge

  3. What is the one thing the Hoosier legal status quo hates more than a whistleblower? A lawyer whistleblower taking on the system man to man. That must never be rewarded, must always, always, always be punished, lest the whole rotten tree be felled.

  4. I want to post this to keep this tread alive and hope more of David's former clients might come forward. In my case, this coward of a man represented me from June 2014 for a couple of months before I fired him. I knew something was wrong when he blatantly lied about what he had advised me in my contentious and unfortunate divorce trial. His impact on the proceedings cast a very long shadow and continues to impact me after a lengthy 19 month divorce. I would join a class action suit.

  5. The dispute in LB Indiana regarding lake front property rights is typical of most beach communities along our Great Lakes. Simply put, communication to non owners when visiting the lakefront would be beneficial. The Great Lakes are designated navigational waters (including shorelines). The high-water mark signifies the area one is able to navigate. This means you can walk, run, skip, etc. along the shores. You can't however loiter, camp, sunbath in front of someones property. Informational signs may be helpful to owners and visitors. Our Great Lakes are a treasure that should be enjoyed by all. PS We should all be concerned that the Long Beach, Indiana community is on septic systems.

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