Plaintiff’s lawyer in civil rights case against former Phila. cop awarded nearly $75K in attorney’s fees

By Jon Campisi | Sep 4, 2013

A plaintiff who was awarded $100,000 in punitive damages in a civil case against a Philadelphia police officer who forced the man to engage in sexual acts has now been awarded more than $70,000 in attorney’s fees.

A plaintiff who was awarded $100,000 in punitive damages in a civil case against a Philadelphia police officer who forced the man to engage in sexual acts has now been awarded more than $70,000 in attorney’s fees.

U.S. District Judge Robert F. Kelly, sitting in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, granted a motion by James Harris seeking lawyer’s fees arising from his civil suit against Michael Paige.

Harris filed a federal civil rights complaint against Paige and the City of Philadelphia back in the spring of 2008 over claims that the defendant forced sex upon the plaintiff under the show of authority.

Following a two-day jury trial in late June 2012, Harris was awarded $65,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages.

The plaintiff subsequently filed a motion to recoup attorney’s fees for his lawyer, Brian F. Humble, the record shows.

Paige’s subsequent appeal to the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals was denied.

He was soon called to active military service and the case was placed in civil suspense until Paige’s return from duty, the record shows.

In his memorandum, Kelly wrote that Harris was entitled to attorney’s fees under the law because the plaintiff was a “prevailing party” on virtually every claim presented to the jury.

Jurors had found that Paige violated Harris’ Fourth Amendment rights and that the former officer committed violations that caused injuries to the plaintiff including severe emotional distress, the memorandum shows.

“Because Harris is clearly the prevailing party, this argument is without merit,” Kelly wrote.

As for the fees, Humble, the plaintiff’s attorney, had submitted an hourly rate of $475, which he said was based on a “fair market standard used by and established for attorneys of similar experience.”

Paige had argued that the appropriate hourly rate for Humble would be between $150 and $225 because the lawyer had “very limited experience in the civil rights field and no trials in this [field],” the memorandum states.

Kelly wrote that Humble failed to submit affidavits from other Philadelphia-area attorneys opining what a reasonable hourly rate is for a civil rights lawyer with experience similar to his, and thus Humble failed to meet this burden by failing to produce any other evidence for the court to compare his requested hourly rate “to the rates prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience and reputation.”

Given Humble’s experience, Kelly ruled it was appropriate to set the attorney’s hourly fee at the lower end of the $260 to $335 range.

Humble originally said he worked more than 550 hours at a rate of $475 per hour, and requested attorney’s fees in the amount of $263,031.25.

Kelly determined that while Humble did, indeed, spend a considerable amount of time on the case, which dated back to 2008, the court still viewed many of the requested fees as “excessive and unnecessary.”

In the end, the judge determined that lawyer’s fees in the amount of $71,253 were a more appropriate figure.

Kelly denied a petition asking for attorney’s fees for a lawyer who previously assisted on the case, a man identified as Anthony McKnight.

The federal jurist wrote that the request was problematic because McKnight is currently a disbarred attorney in Pennsylvania, having been disbarred retroactive to 2007.

Humble sought close to $125,000 in lawyer’s fees on McKnight’s behalf.

Given the current case law in this area, Kelly wrote, “it should be foreseeable to both McKnight and Attorney Humble that McKnight is not entitled to a fee award” under federal law.

“Thus, it is apparent that it was incumbent for McKnight to have to come to some other agreement with Attorney Humble how he would be paid for his services and not look to this Court for his compensation,” the judge wrote.

Humble was also awarded more than $4,000 in attorney’s fees for the preparation of the fee petition, and $780 in attorney’s fees in defense of the appeal to the Third Circuit.

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