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July 10, 2014

Judge slashes Beattie lawyer’s $525 hourly rate 40%

Judge halves L.M. bill in mat case

WILLIAMSPORT — Legal fees submitted by attorneys representing the parents of girl wrestler Audriana Beattie are duplicative, unnecessary and unreasonable, said a federal judge who Thursday halved the amount the Line Mountain School District must pay.

U.S. District Judge Matthew W. Brann ruled that Line Mountain is responsible for $70,948.89 in attorney fees for Brian and Angie Beattie, who successfully sued the district to allow their seventh-grade daughter, Audriana, to join the all-male junior high wrestling team.

The order by Brann, which halves the requested amount of $140,682, agreed in part with the district that the proposed hourly rates and claimed hours billed are “unreasonable” enough to reduce them to match the $180 to $325 hourly rates in the Middle District, where the case was heard.

The judge ruled in April that Line Mountain policy that prevented Audriana, who turned 13 on Feb. 11, and other female athletes from participating on all male-teams when there is no female squad available violated the students’ civil rights.

Audriana’s parents filed the lawsuit in October.

The judge determined Thursday that Line Mountain will pay $49,080.78 to Flaster Greenberg PC and $21,868.11 to the Women’s Law Project.

The court retains discretion to award reasonable attorney fees and costs to the prevailing party in civil rights litigation, but the prevailing party must meet the burden of proving the fees are reasonable and the hours necessary, Brann said.

Attorneys billed for 337.3 hours

The number of claimed billable hours expended by five Beattie attorneys totaled 337.3. They were at hourly rates of $525 for Abbe F. Fletman, of Flaster Greenberg PC; $320 for Nella Bloom and $250 for Joanne Kelley, associates; $450 for Terry L. Fromson, a managing attorney at the Women’s Law Project; and $230 for Amal Bass, a staff attorney.

In comparing the billing records of Fletman and Fromson, Brann said a number of hours exist where the review of each other’s work is “duplicative and unnecessary.”

“Two experienced attorneys with self-asserted expertise in the area of law need not extensively review one another’s work, as skilled counsel should handle complicated tasks on her own,” Brann said.

Brann identified 34.4 hours of Fletman’s time writing and reviewing the court documents that overlap with 38.8 hours that Fromson claimed to have worked on the exact same paperwork.

Fromson’s attendance at the November hearing, who the district claimed was more of a spectator than a contributor, was also “unnecessary,” Brann said.

“Although Fromson contends that her attendance was vital for a number of reasons, including helping with exhibits and preparing to being the post-hearing brief, those arguments are unavailing,” the judge said. “Fromson’s attendance at the hearing was not vital to the prosecution of the case, as she merely took notes and handed exhibits to attorney Fletman who conducted the entire hearing.”

If necessary at all, such work could have been conducted by an associate with a lower billing rate, Brann said.

Costs associated with Fromson traveling to and attending the hearing are also reduced, Brann said.

In total, Brann reduced Fletman’s claimed time of 101.1 hours to 92.9 hours and Fromson’s claimed time of 113.8 hours to 80.6 hours.

The judge also determined that the Beatties’ attorneys were “not so experienced that there was a need to draw counsel from a distant district for this matter.”

The Beatties did not do enough to find a local attorney in the Middle District, Brann said.

He reduced Fletman’s hourly rate to $325, Fromson’s hourly rate to $250, Bloom’s to $200 and Kelley and Bass’s to $150.

How much the district’s insurance policy will cover of the attorney fees is not clear at this time.

A $10,000 deductible was already paid out and the district has its own attorney fees to pay. The insurance policy covers only the next $100,000 in legal fees and then the district would start paying again.

In a final order, Brann directed the court clerk to officially close the case.

 

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