Virginia settles claim over lawyer fees in same-sex marriage case

Peter Dujardin
Contact Reporterpdujardin@dailypress.com
Virginia will pay $520,000 to lawyers who challenged state's gay marriage ban

The state will pay $520,000 to the team of lawyers who successfully pushed to overturn Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage.

The attorneys for the case's plaintiffs had told the state last fall that they were owed $1.74 million for more than 2,300 hours they said they logged on the case.

But under a settlement agreement filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Norfolk, a Washington, D.C. law firm, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, will get $459,000 for its work. That was the team led by Ted Olsen, the nation's former solicitor general.

Meanwhile, Shuttleworth, Ruloff, Swain, Haddad & Morecock — the Virginia Beach law firm that filed the initial complaint against the state in 2013 — will get $61,000 under the agreement.

The attorneys represented a Norfolk couple, Tim Bostic and Tony London, and a Chesterfield County couple, Carol Schall and Mary Townley, who challenged the state's ban on same-sex marriage.

Last February, a Norfolk federal judge, U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen, declared Virginia's gay marriage ban unconstitutional. A federal appeals court upheld her decision, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case — making same-sex marriage legal in Virginia.

Though Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring had steadfastly supported the plaintiffs in their quest, the plaintiffs were still entitled to recover lawyer fees from the state as the case's defendant.

"Because the plaintiffs prevailed ... the law allows them to recover their legal costs," Michael Kelly, an AG's office spokesman, said in an email, pointing out that the $520,000 state payment is 70 percent lower than the lawyers' initial claim.

The plaintiffs lawyers said they logged 2,372 hours on the case. That equated to $1.74 million in fees — or an average rate of $733 an hour. They also said they spent $5,422 for various other expenses.

The lawyers contended the submitted figures "already reflected the firms' voluntary reduction of fees for time written off and did not include other significant costs incurred in the course of the litigation," the settlement said.

At the same time, however, those fees were "substantially higher than prevailing rates in the Norfolk legal market," the agreement said

To determine "reasonable" fees, the settlement said, the plaintiffs agreed to limit their fees to only a "core" group of lawyers, reduced the rates to a range typically approved by Virginia's federal courts, and eliminated certain categories of charges, including travel and "work in support of legal positions that did not prevail," among other cuts to the bill.

That resulted in a reduced charge of $523,500. That included "blended" hourly rates across the two firms of $506 for partners, $274 for associates and $145 for paralegals, the agreement said.

The lawyers then accepted the state's settlement offer of $520,000.

Though the two sides "continue to dispute the billing rates and charges to which Plaintiffs are entitled," the settlement said, they also "acknowledge the uncertainty and risks" and "cost and expense" of continuing to litigate the matter.

The fees will be paid by the state Department of Treasury's Division of Risk Management, Kelly said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Dujardin can be reached by phone at 757-247-4749.

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