No-Fly List Lawyers May Get Smaller Fee Award

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – After more than eight years of litigation, complete with two trips to the 9th Circuit, a Malaysian woman who took on the government for putting her on the no-fly list can finally pay her pro bono lawyers.
     Instead of the nearly $4 million they sought, however, a special master has recommended a total of just under $420,000.
     Rahinah Ibrahim sued the Department of Homeland Security and several other federal agencies after Transportation Security Administration agents kept her from boarding a flight to Hawaii to attend a conference in 2005. 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.
     After two 9th Circuit reversals made it clear that Ibrahim had established sufficient ties to the U.S. to advance constitutional claims – and U.S. District Judge William Alsup refused to dismiss the case for lack of standing as a noncitizen – the case went to trial .
     Earlier this year, 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.” In an effort to determine how much the taxpayers should cough up, he ordered both parties to submit detailed timecards for the eight-year case.
     After months of wrangling, Alsup appointed special master Gina Moon of the San Francisco firm Clarence Dyer & Cohen to sort it out. Late Thursday, Moon issued her 117-page report recommending $419,987.36 for McManis Faulkner.
     Moon’s recommendations include an already ordered $250 per hour for James McManis, and the maximum rates that the Equal Access to Justice Act allows for Ibrahim’s other lawyers, plus cost-of-living adjustments.
     But Moon declined to give other nonattorney staff – paralegals, interns and clerks – the same rate of pay as the lawyers in the case. Instead, she recommended $100 per hour, a rate accepted by the 9th Circuit.
     The special master also reduced the government’s portion for pretrial costs, given that other parties settled with Ibrahim or were dismissed from the action along the way. And while she acknowledged Ibrahim’s concern that the Justice Department staffed the case with far more lawyers and paralegals than McManis Faulkner, Moon said that “excessively vague” billing and charging for nonrecoverable work doomed the firm’s hefty demand.
     Moon also asked Alsup to decide whether a spreadsheet previously stricken from the record can be considered in her effort to figure out how much of Ibrahim’s $294,000 expense request should be paid.

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