Federal Court asked to rule on question of Holmes’ legal fees
Wed, 06/22/2016 - 05:00
Raymond L. Daye
A motion has been filed asking the federal court to dismiss all claims by Allen Holmes for payment of attorneys’ fees or expenses related to his lengthy desegregation case against the Avoyelles Parish School Board.
Another motion has been filed asking the court to rule and award appropriate costs, fees and expenses to Holmes for his 28 years of litigation in the desegregation suit.
District Attorney Charles Riddle filed his “motion for partial summary judgment” June 5. Holmes’ attorney, Mark Jeansonne, filed his “motion for partial summary judgment” May 31. The two motions are follow-up filings to a March 29 order by U.S. District Judge Dee Drell. In that ruling, Drell stated that “applicable law does not permit the court to award him (Holmes) attorneys’ fees nor monetary damages in this case, nor does it permit the court to compensate him for his time or expenses as though he were an attorney.”
Holmes had sought $2.7 million in compensation for his time, basing the demand on the amount of hours he said he worked on the case over the past 28 years.
For most of that time, Holmes served as both attorney and plaintiff, after original attorney Louis Berry retired from active practice. In his March 29 “ruling and order,” Drell noted “the substantial and faithful contribution made by Mr. Holmes over many years in his role as intervenor. We cannot applaud him enough!”
However, Drell continued by saying the law would not allow the court to award attorneys’ fees or damages.
Drell said that even if it were possible to “equate intervenor’s substantial time with that of an experienced attorney,” the request for $2.7 million “is utterly unrealistic.”
At the time of the March 29 ruling, Drell said the School Board had agreed that Holmes was due some level of reimbursement “on an entirely equitable basis.”
Drell pointed out in that ruling Holmes’ motion and supplemental brief on the issue of compensation failed to “include any description of expenses other than rough estimates of time spent. As stated above, compensation for Mr. Holmes’ time is simply not a legally permissible quantification of remedy in this instance.”
Since it then appeared the School Board recognized that Holmes “should possibly be reimbursed some amount, it is the goal of this court to assist these like-minded parties in working toward an equitable remedy which serves justice and promotes a fair resolution of the issue before us.” Drell then ordered that the School Board meet with Holmes and Jeansonne to reach a compromise concerning reimbursement of Holmes’ expenses incurred during the litigation of the desegregation suit.
Both parties submitted motions requesting the court to uphold their argument and dismiss their opponent’s. These dueling motions will be considered by the judge and a ruling be rendered on the requests at a later date.
In his June 5 motion to the federal court, Riddle states that there “is no law entitling Allen Holmes to any expenses or fees, except those that are normally granted to a party in a suit that is filed. That would be any costs expended for pleadings and also any expert fees for which Mr. Holmes expended funds.”
Riddle claims that since Holmes “has presented no expenses or payment for any costs associated with expenses for which he may be entitled, the APSB asks that this motion for summary judgment be granted by this court, dismissing the claim by Allen Holmes.”
In his motion to the court, Jeansonne states Holmes submitted a “9-page itemized correspondence” to the School Board April 20, requesting settlement of $336,333. Jeansonne notes that Holmes later sent an email offering to reduce his demand to $198,653.
“By correspondence dated 5/11/16, and despite nearly 28 years of effort by intervenor (Holmes), APSB apparently made a counter of $28,000,” Jeansonne states in the motion, adding that the proposed settlement is “less than a 4-year salary of a School Board member.”
Holmes rejected the offer and the federal court was notified by email May 16 that settlement negotiations had stalled. The court then ordered both parties to file motions for partial summary judgment.
In his documentation in support of his motion, Jeansonne said the federal court decision in the Little Rock desegregation case found that a prevailing party in a court action is entitled to fees and expenses.
"To ‘not’ make an award of fees and expenses to an intervenor would be unjust -- exactly what the statute seeks to prevent,” Jeansonne stated. His memorandum to the court notes there is no requirement in the statutes that a prevailing party be an attorney.
“If the statute only provided for such reimbursement to attorneys, then pro se applicants would be significantly denied justice,” Jeansonne contends.
Pro se is a Latin term meaning “in one’s own behalf,” or, in this case, without an attorney.
"In fact, in the case at bar, intervenor was not represented for the majority of his litigation and could not find counsel competent or willing to engage in this litigation without first acquiring a huge retainer,” the motion noted.
In closing his arguments, Jeansonne claims that “based on the aforenoted authority, he (Holmes) is entitled to ‘costs, fees and expenses,’ and prays for partial summary judgment so decreeing in his favor.”