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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. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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