February 11, 2015

CREW Continues Winning Streak with Latest Award of Attorneys’ Fees

By Anne Weismann

LegalIn yet another victory for CREW, United States District Court Judge Christopher R. Cooper issued an opinion today awarding CREW $35,018 in attorneys’ fees for its time spent litigating access to records about convicted lobbyist Paul Magliocchetti, CREW v. Dep’t of Justice, Civil No. 11-00374.  CREW sought records from the Department of Justice’s closed investigative files under the FOIA, and sued the agency when it refused to produce anything on privacy grounds.  The district judge agreed with CREW that the public interest in the documents outweighed the agency’s claim of broad privacy rights, and ordered DOJ to process the request and release all non-exempt documents to CREW.  Based on that order, CREW received hundreds of pages of documents that led to substantial press coverage about what CREW had uncovered concerning the prosecution of Mr. Magliocchetti and what Judge Cooper referred to, based on a DOJ press release, as “one of the largest federal campaign finance frauds in history.”

On the issue of fees, DOJ did not contest CREW’s entitlement to fees or the hours for which CREW was seeking reimbursement.   DOJ did, however, contest the hourly rates the court should apply, arguing they should be based on rates maintained by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia that are derived from the overall Consumer Price Index for the Washington-Baltimore area.  CREW urged the court to instead accept rates derived from the legal services component of the CPI, which best approximate the hourly billing rates for Washington, D.C. attorneys engaged in the kind of complex litigation at issue here.

Judge Cooper accepted the hourly rate proposed by CREW, which he then reduced by 15 percent to account for the differences between what law firms report as their hourly rates, and what they actual recover.  As a result, he ordered DOJ to pay CREW a total of $35,018 in fees and costs.

This decision joins a growing list of others where CREW had to litigate both its entitlement under the FOIA to records of closed investigations of public officials and individuals like Mr. Magliocchetti as well as to fees incurred by that litigation. 

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