Holmes seeks $2.7 million in "legal fees" in deseg case

 

By Garland Forman
 
    Allen Holmes, plaintiff in the school desegregation suit against the Avoyelles Parish School Board (APSB), is seeking $2.7 million as compensation for his work on the case. Attorney Mark Jeansonne, representing Holmes, filed the petition in U.S. District Court on June 29. No hearing date has been set on the matter.
    Holmes hired Jeansonne as his attorney in April, just prior to a settlement of the desegregation case and the declaration by U.S. District Judge Dee Drell that the school district is a unitary school system. That order imposed a three-year “look back” period in which annual reports must be submitted to the court to monitor the school district’s progress and determine if there are any issues affecting the desegregation of the schools.
   Avoyelles District Attorney Charles Riddle, who represents the School Board, said he would make no comment on the case until after the judge rules on the petition.
   Avoyelles Superintendent Blaine Dauzat said it would cripple the school system operations if the district is ordered to pay a $2.7 million judgment.
 
Who should pay?
    The petition states that Holmes is concerned about “what entities, if any, should pay or reimburse Allen Holmes for his efforts.”
   “The right not to suffer discrimination is a personal right, and that discrimination is therefore a personal injury, analogous to traditional common-law torts for both physical and non-physical harm,” Jeansonne wrote.
    When Holmes filed his lawsuit in April 1987, he not only asked for attorney’s fees and costs, but also for “general and equitable relief.”
Jeansonne said the desegregation case was revived in 1987 solely through the efforts of Allen Holmes, and not by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). 
    The petition states that in 1986 Holmes presented Franz Marshall of the DOJ with “facts and statistics evidencing clear discrimination by the APSB.” Marshall took no action and told Holmes “to handle it himself.”
    Jeansonne said Holmes gave this case his “blood, sweat and tears for 28 years since his legal demand. The efforts were extra-ordinary. The results are astounding.”
    Jeansonne wrote that although “the whole of Avoyelles Parish benefits” from Holmes’ actions, Holmes himself has paid the price in “his physical health and well-being challenged,  his mental solace challenged, his dignity challenged by some of the populace of Avoyelles Parish, time and time again.”
   Holmes contends that since 1987 he has logged 14,560 hours of work on the case -- an average of 10 hours a week making phone calls, doing research and travel. He said he attended 90% of all School Board regular meetings and special meetings, for an estimate of  448 meetings. He claims an additional 1,830 hours for school visits, depositions and interviews. 
    Although he claims to have worked 16,390 hours on the case, he conceded that he did not keep receipts or records of his time spent on the case. He said he should not be penalized for trying to recall an accurate history of his time and efforts.
    He is seeking to be paid at the rate of $165 an hour. He said an experienced attorney would charge about $250 an hour for the work. Holmes is also asking for any damages the court may award.
     “This is a conservative figure,” Jeansonne wrote. “He should get more.”
    In the petition, Jeansonne claims that even when there were attorneys on the case, Holmes did most of the work. He said Holmes did 99 percent of the work when Louis Berry represented him in the first few years of the case.
   There was no attorney on the case from 1989 to 2014, when Ed Larvadain took over. Jeansonne replaced Larvadain in April. 
   Jeansonne is asking to be paid $250 an hour for 30 hours he has spent on the case so far.
  Jeansonne also points out that Dr. William Gordan, the School Board’s desegregation expert in the case, said Holmes was entitled to $1 million. Jeansonne added that Gordan’s estimate was “conservative and modest.”
 
Belittled by  DOJ
   The petition contends the federal DOJ belittled Holmes and suggested he did nothing or little throughout the history of the case.
  “The intervenor (Holmes) was cautious and apprehensive about federal court filings,” Jeansonne wrote. “His accomplishments were mostly without schooled counsel. He should not be penalized for his efforts.”
  The petition cites a Justice Department allegation that Holmes did not receive mail from 2000 to 2003. Holmes said that is untrue because he never moved. Holmes said he could not explain the U.S. Post Office failures to deliver mail to him from the Justice Department.
   “In sum, if one is to ponder what party ‘demonstrated a lack of active participation,’ then look no further than the inactions of the U.S. from November 1970 until 1987,” Jeansonne continued. 
    Jeansonne noted the vast resources of the Justice Department and its special expertise to litigate cases.
   “The real tragedy here is the failure of the U.S. to use its vast resources to attack the vestiges of segregation in Avoyelles Parish after 1970," Jeansonne wrote. "Eighteen years lost until Intervenor Holmes stood up. Now, the vast resources of the U.S. are used to stump on Intervenor Holmes -- that, respectfully, is the tragedy here. Wait, do I understand the U.S. correctly, now Allen Holmes is the bad guy?”

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