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Wisconsin Aims|to Cap Legal Fees

MADISON, Wisc. (CN) - In a party-line vote, Republicans in the Wisconsin Senate approved capping attorneys' fees in consumer cases at "three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded, except in cases where only nonmonetary relief is awarded or in cases involving both compensatory damages and nonmonetary relief."

The Assembly is expected to take up the bill this week.

Senate Bill 12 of the 2011 Special Session was approved 17-15; one Democrat did not vote. SB 12 was written by state Rep. Robin Vos, R-Burlington, after a car dealership had to pay more than $150,000 in legal fees after a man claimed it had charged him $5,000 for car repairs he never authorized.

The dealership is in Voss' district. It has given $44,248 in campaign donations to Republicans since 1993, including $500 to Vos and $2,350 to Gov. Scott Walker since 2008, according to the Capital Times newspaper.

Under SB 12, for a court to award attorneys' fees at all, "the court must consider include the time and labor required by the attorney, the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, and the complexity of the case; the skills needed to perform the legal service properly; the likelihood that the acceptance of the particular case prevented the attorney from accepting other work; the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services; the amount involved in the legal dispute and the results obtained; the fees granted in similar cases; the time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances; the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client; the experience, reputation, and ability of the attorney performing the services; whether the fee is fixed or contingent; and the legitimacy of any defenses raised in the case."

Fees will not be capped in cases where only nonmonetary relief is awarded, so long as the court considers the factors above.

In cases where both compensatory damages and nonmonetary relief is awarded, "the bill sets forth a presumption that a reasonable attorney fee is not more than three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded, but allows a court to determine that a greater amount is reasonable if the court considers all of the factors set forth in the bill."

Rep. Voss told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "The limits would provide certainty for businesses."

Many attorneys and Democrats disagree.

The State Bar of Wisconsin states on its website that SB 12 "will have unintended, adverse consequences for Wisconsin's business community - on whose behalf the legislation was offered - by creating uncertainty and ambiguity in the law where none currently exists. The new limits imposed by the bill may impact as many as 280 statutes and administrative rules, including many that are frequently brought by Wisconsin businesses against those who have violated the law."

The Bar adds: "Wisconsin business owners and individual taxpayers and consumers cannot afford a measure that will clog our courts with avoidable litigation and further delay the resolution of civil cases."

State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, who is considered a possible candidate to run against Walker in a recall election, called the bill another example of how Walker "chooses corporations over Wisconsin citizens."

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