The Bill Just Keeps Going Up
On Jan. 2, two lawyers for Davis Wright Tremaine met to talk about what to do next in the big discrimination case against Seattle Public Schools.
They had just argued the case before the U.S. Supreme Court. A decision wasn't due for months. So they went to work on another pressing matter: How to get paid. For an hour, the lawyers discussed ways to recover attorneys' fees from the schools if they won. One lawyer was tasked to research the matter, and the meeting ended.
Cost billed to Seattle taxpayers for that meeting: $635.
That's $370 for one lawyer's time, and $265 for the other one. All now being charged to the public schools.
You've probably heard that Davis Wright Tremaine, after successfully arguing that the schools must stop using race in making school assignments, is billing the district for its costs. Though it took the case pro bono — "for the public good."
They're allowed to go after the money. I can't see the public good. But they have the right and almost certainly will win.
But while pawing through the firm's expense sheets, I noticed they're not just billing for their work on the case. They're also billing for any time they're spending on their bill.
And they seem to be spending a LOT of time working out that bill.
In all, the firm has charged the public for 287 hours of work related to its own billing. This includes researching how to collect the fees. Tabulating the hours everyone worked and expenses they incurred. Writing up memos defending their bills as reasonable.
The hours were put in by paralegals ($140/hour) on up to a senior partner ($460/hour). The total bill to make out a bill that runs about 400 pages? $83,380.
That's the total for now, anyway. The firm says more bills are on the way. That's because there will be more work related to the billing, especially if it gets contested. They also say it's part of the penalty when you lose a case like this — you may have to pay for compiling the bill.
Hey, Davis Wright Tremaine, and your clients, the parents who sued the district: This is insane.You argue this isn't to enrich the firm, but to punish the district. The theory is that the fees, at $1.8 million and rising, are a lash to whip the district for its bad race-based deeds.
When I called the lawyers Tuesday, they compared it to, among other cases, their pro bono defense of a prisoner beaten by L.A. jail guards.
This makes no sense. Seattle's policy wasn't intended to hurt anyone, let alone beat them to a pulp. It was to help the kids who need it most.
That doesn't mean it was a good policy. I agree we're probably better off with it gone.
But how does fining the schools now serve anybody? It's the very opposite of what we need, which is to pour more energy and resources into struggling schools. Someone ought to move to settle this billing fight.
Of course this debate does serve somebody. That would be the ones charging us for having it, hour by exorbitant hour.