State corrections officials want a Baton Rouge federal judge to significantly reduce the nearly $890,000 that a team of lawyers is requesting for representing three ailing condemned killers who prevailed in a lawsuit that claimed the steamy hot conditions on Louisiana’s death row at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola are unconstitutional.
The attorneys for Elzie Ball, Nathaniel Code and James Magee are asking Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson to order the state to pay the attorneys $795,550 in fees and another $92,000-plus in costs, or a total of more than $887,500.
Lawyers for the state Department of Corrections claim in court documents that the billing records for the inmates attorneys are “compromised by vague entries, imprecise record-keeping, duplicative work and unreasonable time expended without adequate justification.”
Corrections officials are urging Jackson to carefully scrutinize the billing records and find that “far less than half of the time submitted is compensable in this case.”
The judge has given the inmates’ attorneys until Jan. 13 to respond to the state’s opposition.
In a Dec. 16 federal court filing, the state’s lawyers claim the inmates’ attorneys have overstaffed the case, noting that the prisoners are represented by no less than seven attorneys.
“Plaintiffs are seeking fees for excessive hours per task, team billing for preparation and drafting of pleadings, group attendance at hearings and depositions, and hours upon hours of generalized groupthink about the case,” Special Assistant Attorney General Carlton Jones III and other state’s attorneys argue in the filing.
“When more than one attorney is involved in a case, the possibility of duplication of effort increases and careful scrutiny of records should follow. Plaintiffs’ team has ranged from four to six attorneys at a time, many performing overlapping or redundant tasks,” the state’s lawyers contend. “While plaintiffs may elect to have six people review and analyze every motion and pleading, the fees for all six attorneys are not properly shifted to defendants.”
The state’s attorneys also complain about the inmates’ lawyers seeking compensation for work performed on the case more than two years before the prisoners’ lawsuit was filed in June 2013. Some investigation prior to the filing of a suit is necessary, but some fees originate three years before the three inmates were even identified as plaintiffs.
“The time entries for 2011 and 2012 are simply too detached ... to have been reasonably expended on this litigation to be recoverable,” the state’s attorneys argue.
Jackson ruled in December 2013 that the state was violating the constitutional rights of Ball, Code and Magee by allowing excessive heat indexes on death row at the Louisiana State Penitentiary.
The state, which is appealing the judge’s ruling and order that heat indexes not top 88 degrees, has proposed a daily cool shower, personal ice chests and more fans for the three prisoners.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has said the state does not have to install air conditioning on death row.