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NCAA’s Legal Debt|Reduced to $40.7 Million

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Despite rejecting nearly all of the NCAA's objections to attorneys' fees awarded the legal team for college athletes seeking a cut of broadcast revenue, a federal judge reduced the award by nearly $4 million - to $40.7 million.

UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon led the class action against the NCAA, demanding a share in the television broadcast revenue for the use of their names, images and likenesses. The case was filed in 2009 and took five years to get to trial. By then more than 30 law firms had signed on to O'Bannon's team.

In August 2014, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled that the NCAA violated antitrust law by imposing rules that kept student athletes from receiving such compensation.

In July 2015, Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins awarded O'Bannon's lawyers, led by Hausfeld LLP, $44.4 million in fees and $1.5 million for expenses. He rejected the attorneys' request for $3.7 million for expert fees.

The NCAA fought vigorously to whittle down the award, arguing that O'Bannon's attorneys should not recover fees for time spent on class claims that were unsuccessful. These included efforts on behalf of former college athletes who were prevented from licensing their names, images and likeness after they stopped playing college sports.

Wilken modified the award to $40.7 million on March 31.

She found the O'Bannon team recorded nearly 8,000 hours working on claims against the Collegiate Licensing Commission and Electronic Arts, a video game company whose college sports-themed games were the subject of a separate right-of-publicity lawsuit settled in 2013.

The NCAA also faulted Cousins for failing to discuss 6,086 disputed entries for clerical tasks that it believed did not merit a fee award.

But Wilken wrote that it was "unreasonable for the NCAA to expect Magistrate Judge Cousins to discuss even a fraction of the more than 6,000 entries it identified." She added: "This is particularly true when many of the entries identified are unquestionably for substantive work."

Wilken found only a small portion of those entries were for purely clerical things such as copying and making travel arrangements. She reduced that fee by $34,391 - not the $1.7 million reduction the NCAA sought.

Wilken rejected most of the NCAA's other fee-reduction requests, finding Cousins' 2015 order fair and reasonable.

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