Despite strenuous objections from the state, attorneys for three Louisiana condemned killers contend they’ve exercised sound billing judgment in seeking more than $887,000 for successfully defending the prisoners’ claims that the summer heat on death row is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.
The state’s lawyers last month asked Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson to drastically reduce the amount of fees and costs sought by the inmates’ attorneys, alleging, among other things, that those attorneys have overstaffed the case and that the money they seek is excessive.
But in a written response Wednesday to those allegations, the lawyers for Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola inmates Elzie Ball, Nathaniel Code and James Magee vigorously defended their handling of the case and their billing and asked the judge to award them fees and costs consistent with their $887,500 request.
“Plaintiffs have already made a reduction of more than 20 percent of hours expended, which further demonstrates plaintiffs’ careful exercise of billing judgment,” Mercedes Montagnes, the inmates’ lead attorney, states in the court filing.
Montagnes also countered the state’s allegation of overstaffing, noting that at the 2013 trial of the inmates’ lawsuit, the plaintiffs and the state each had five lawyers present.
“Defendants’ attacks on plaintiffs’ counsel as overstaffed therefore ring hollow,” she stated.
The state’s attorneys complained last month that the three prisoners are represented by seven attorneys, but Montagnes stated Wednesday that for the period after July 2014, fees have been sought for only three lawyers.
The state also objected to the prisoners’ attorneys seeking compensation for a more than two-year period leading up to the filing of the inmates’ suit in mid-2013.
Montagnes insists that the attorneys’ entries for prefiling investigation in the case are all related to the litigation.
“The work expended in the investigation phase was both reasonable and germane to the litigation,” she wrote Wednesday. “It required many interviews, lengthy struggles for public records with defendants and multiple attempts to contact defendants in seeking to resolve the underlying problem of excessive heat on death row in advance of filing a complaint.
“To the extent that defendants feel the investigation phase of this litigation was unreasonable, it was prolonged by defendants’ various forms of intransigence,” she added.
Jackson, in December 2013, found the state in violation of the three inmates’ constitutional rights by allowing extreme heat indexes on death row during the summer.
While appealing the judge’s ruling and order that heat indexes not exceed 88 degrees, the state has proposed a daily cool shower, a personal ice chest and more fans for the ailing inmates.
A federal appeals court in New Orleans has ruled in the case that air conditioning is not necessary to cure the constitutional violations.