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Saturday, July 13, 2024 | Back issues
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Lawyers Get Nothing for Fee Fight in No-Fly Case

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A federal judge denied an $85,000 demand by a Malaysian woman's pro bono lawyers for work done in a battle over how much the government should pay following her successful fight to get her name off the Transportation Security Administration's no-fly list.

Rahinah Ibrahim successfully fought the U.S. government over her inclusion on the no-fly list in 2005, when TSA agents barred the Malaysian woman from boarding a flight to attend a conference in Hawaii. Though officials eventually let Ibrahim return to Malaysia, they revoked her student visa shortly thereafter - keeping her from returning to Stanford to finish her doctoral thesis.

Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge William Alsup found that Ibrahim had been illegally placed on the no-fly list and a plethora of other watch lists and terror databases. The Justice Department admitted that an FBI agent's goof led to blacklisting Ibrahim, and the judge ordered her removed from all databases and lists.

Ibrahim's lawyers from the firm McManis Faulkner claimed victory - despite losing key constitutional claims - and asked for more than $3.9 million in attorneys' fees and costs. Alsup called the demand "grossly broad even to the point of seeking double recovery," and ordered both parties to submit detailed timecards for the eight-year case to determine how much taxpayers should cough up.

After months of wrangling, Alsup appointed special master Gina Moon of the San Francisco firm Clarence Dyer & Cohen to sort it out. Moon issued a 117-page report recommending $419,987.36 for McManis Faulkner, which Alsup accepted in full last month.

Undeterred, Ibrahim's lawyers demanded another $85,467.50 for the work they did objecting to Moon's report - a move Alsup rejected outright.

"This new demand is overstated and comes after a history of plaintiff's counsel stubbornly refusing to cooperate in this significantly protracted satellite fee litigation," Alsup wrote in a terse, three-page order. "This grossly overstated sum is not justified, especially considering the outcome of counsel's objections. All of counsel for plaintiff's objections were overruled. Indeed, they filed two, ten-page briefs when only one was permitted. Accordingly, one of their briefs was stricken. Counsel's remaining objections, after careful consideration, were overruled. Nevertheless, counsel now forge ahead to demand an additional large sum. The undersigned judge will not encourage such behavior by allowing it to be trimmed back to a lesser number. To do so would invite grossly overbroad requests on the strategy that counsel will at least get some lesser amount. Since the amount sought is patently excessive for the work done, the baby will go out with the bath water."

Alsup also stayed his previous order that the government pay by Oct. 30, given that both sides have appealed various facets of the case - including the attorney fee award - to the 9th Circuit.

"Although the court has issued an entitlement order and fixed the award, our court of appeals may yet disagree. To take one example, they could find that the government's position was substantially justified, meaning that no fees would be recoverable under the Equal Access to Justice Act. There is also no evidence a stay would substantially injure plaintiff's counsel and it is indeed far better, in an exercise of this court's discretion, to stay payment until there is finality on the award, which would come out of the Treasury."

The 9th Circuit won't hear the case until late 2015 at the earliest.

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