Alberti v. Sheriff of Harris County

Decision Date08 October 1987
Docket NumberCrim. No. 72-H-1094.
Citation688 F. Supp. 1176
PartiesLawrence R. ALBERTI, et al., Plaintiffs, v. SHERIFF OF HARRIS COUNTY, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Texas

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James Oitzinger, Gerald M. Birnberg, Williams, Birnberg & Andersen, Houston, Tex., for plaintiffs.

William White, Susman, Godfrey & McGowan, Houston, Tex., for Oitzinger & Birnberg.

Lupe Salinas, Asst. Co. Atty., Houston, Tex., for defendant, Sheriff Johnny Klevenhagen.

Roderick Lawrence, Asst. Co. Atty., Houston, Tex., for defendants, County Com'rs.

                                            TABLE OF CONTENTS                                 Page
                    I.  Introduction ........................................................ 1180
                   II.  Defendants' Pendency Contention ..................................... 1181
                  III.  The Requirements of Johnson ......................................... 1182
                   IV.  Method Employed By The Court ........................................ 1183
                    V.  Determination of Fee ................................................ 1184
                        A. Johnson Factor Number One
                           Time and Labor Required .......................................... 1184
                           (1) Contemporaneous Time Records ................................ 1184
                           (2) Time Itemizations ............................................ 1186
                           (3) Reasonableness of Time Expended .............................. 1186
                               (a) Time Spent Monitoring Compliance ......................... 1186
                               (b) Time Spent On Investigation .............................. 1187
                               (c) Results Obtained ......................................... 1187
                        B. Johnson Factor Number Two
                            The Novelty and Difficulty of the Questions ..................... 1188
                        C. Johnson Factor Number Three
                           The Skill Requisite to Perform the Legal Service Properly ........ 1188
                        D. Johnson Factors Numbers Four and Seven
                           The Preclusion of Other Employment by the Attorney Due To
                             Acceptance of the Case and Time Limitations Imposed by the
                             Client or the Circumstances .................................... 1189
                        E. Johnson Factor Number Five:
                           The Customary Fee ................................................ 1190
                           (1) Burden of Proof .............................................. 1191
                           (2) Irrelevance to Fee Determination of Social Motivation of
                                 Plaintiffs' Attorneys ...................................... 1191
                        F. Johnson Factor Number Six:
                           Whether the Fee is Fixed or Contingent ........................... 1191
                           (1) Risk of Non-Payment .......................................... 1193
                           (2) Risk of Delay in Receipt of Payment .......................... 1193
                
                
                      G.  Johnson Factor Number Eight:
                          The Amount Involved and the Results Obtained.......................... 1195
                      H.  Johnson Factor Number Nine:
                          The Experience, Reputation and Ability of the Attorneys ............... 1197
                      I.  Johnson Factor Number Ten:
                          The Undesirability of the Case ........................................ 1198
                      J.  Johnson Factor Number Eleven:
                          The Nature and Length of the Professional Relationship with
                          the Client ............................................................ 1199
                      K.  Johnson Factor Number Twelve:
                          Awards in Similar Cases ............................................... 1199
                   V. (a) Fees For Litigating Fee Issue ......................................... 1200
                      A.  Generally ............................................................. 1200
                      B.  Opposition By § 1988 Defendants........................................ 1200
                      C.  Time Spent Preparing Fee Petition ..................................... 1200
                      D.  Association of Special Fee Counsel .................................... 1201
                  VI. Ombudsman Issue........................................................... 1201
                 VII. Costs and Expenses ........................................................ 1202
                      A.  Computer Assisted Legal Research ...................................... 1202
                      B.  Depositions ........................................................... 1202
                      C.  Certified Copies, Travel Expenses, Copies of Depositions, Photocopies,
                          Delivery Charges, Certified Mail, Long Distance Telephone
                          Charges, And Similar Expenses ......................................... 1202
                      D.  Expert Witness Fees.................................................... 1203
                VIII. Conclusion ................................................................ 1203
                  IX. Appendices ................................................................ 1205
                      Appendix A Claim By Attorney Oitzinger
                      Appendix B Court Award to Attorney Oitzinger
                      Appendix C Claim by Attorney Birnberg
                      Appendix D Court Award to Attorney Birnberg
                
ORDER

CARL O. BUE, Jr., District Judge.

Pending before the Court is Plaintiffs' Application for Attorneys' Fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C.A. § 1988.1

I. INTRODUCTION

This Cause of Action comprises to date fifteen years of protracted litigation before this Court. Plaintiffs filed suit in this Court on August 14, 1972, against members of the Harris County Commissioners Court ("Commissioners Court") and the Harris County Sheriff's Department, alleging numerous violations of their constitutional and statutory rights as the result of Defendants' operations and maintenance of county detention facilities.

On January 26, 1973, the Court granted the Plaintiffs' Motion to Designate a Class. On February 4, 1975, counsel signed and this Court approved a Consent Judgment by which Defendants generally agreed to bring presently existing facilities and operations into compliance with federal and state standards. See U.S. Const.Amends. I; V; VI; VIII; XIV. This Court expressly retained jurisdiction to issue any and all interim orders necessary to effectuate compliance with the Consent Judgment. Thereafter, compliance with the Consent Decree was questioned by the Plaintiffs, and compliance hearings were conducted by the Court resulting in this Court's issuance of additional remedial orders. Counsel for the Plaintiff class, Attorney James Oitzinger, has represented the Plaintiff class since the inception of the litigation. Mr. Oitzinger also served as the head of the Office of the Ombudsman pursuant to this Court's Order of December 16, 1975, until the Court terminated the position and appointed Special Masters on April 28, 1987. Counsel for the Plaintiffs, Attorney Gerald M. Birnberg, became involved in the instant action in mid-August 1975. Mr. Birnberg has served as trial counsel in the action at bar from mid-August 1975 until the present. Mr. Birnberg also served as a member of the Office of the Ombudsman pursuant to this Court's directives from December, 1975 until the appointment by this Court of the Special Masters.

The Court conducted evidentiary hearings on the attorneys' fees issue from November 11, 1986 to November 26, 1986 and on December 2, 1986 until December 3, 1986. The parties presented evidence by live testimony, exhibits, depositions and affidavits.

Pending before the Court are numerous petitions, both pre-hearing and post-hearing, submitted by counsel for services rendered and for expenses incurred in connection with the present litigation from its inception in 1972 until March 1, 1987. For procedural and logistical reasons which will be elaborated upon hereafter in this Opinion, the Court will not consider applications of Plaintiffs' counsel for interim attorneys' fees after that date. These issues will be addressed at an appropriate time to be designated by the successor judge in this case.

II. DEFENDANTS' PENDENCY CONTENTION

On October 21, 1986, Defendants filed a Motion to Deny Plaintiffs' Attorneys' Retroactive 42 U.S.C. § 1988 Claim, therein asserting for the first time that attorneys' fees should be denied to Plaintiffs' counsel for all time expended prior to October 19, 1976 (the effective date of the Civil Rights Attorneys' Fee Awards Act of 1976, (the "Act")). The rationale urged in support of the Motion was that the February 4, 1975 Consent Decree and/or the December 16, 1975 Memorandum and Opinion effectively terminated the litigation as of those respective dates, thereby resulting in the case not being "pending" on the effective date of the Act.

Previously, all opposition of the Defendants had focused solely "on the basis that there is evidence to controvert the number of hours claimed by Plaintiff as being reasonably required and reasonably expended to prevail on the merits of the case," and that "the hourly rate claimed by Plaintiff is excessive...." Such position had been adhered to even after the Court Order of May 27, 1986 which directed Defendants to "give the Plaintiffs the specific contentions of the defense" by June 27, 1986. More precisely, the 37-page Contentions of Defendants in Opposition to Attorneys' Fees Petition filed July 2, 1986 contained no hint of a "pendency" argument. As indicated above, this contention first surfaced on October 21, 1986, almost four months after the Court imposed deadline of June 27, 1986 and virtually on the eve of the November hearings.

While the argument can be persuasively made that Defendants should be precluded from raising the "pendency" argument at all in this untimely fashion, Stewart v. Lubbock County, Texas, 767 F.2d 153, 157 (5th Cir.1985), due to their unexplained failure for more than a year to reveal this new and novel defense despite repeated court orders, this Court opts to address the issue in view of the magnitude and complexity of the lawsuit as well as the uniqueness of the circumstances involved.

Defendants concede that C...

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8 cases
  • Cooper v. Hopkins
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Mississippi
    • March 3, 1995
    ...undesirability of the case." Welch and plaintiffs' other attorneys, Tara Walker and Terry Wallace, cite Alberti v. Sheriff of Harris County, 688 F.Supp. 1176, 1199 (S.D.Tex. 1987), aff'd in part, rev'd in part, Alberti v. Klevenhagen, 896 F.2d 927 (5th Cir.); modified on reh., 903 F.2d 352 ......
  • Pruett v. State
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • December 27, 1990
    ...at 1547 (quoting Davis v. County of Los Angeles, 8 E.P.D. 5047 (p 9444), 5048-59 (C.D.Cal.1974)). Accord Alberti v. Sheriff of Harris County, 688 F.Supp. 1176, 1190 (S.D.Tex.1987) order modified, Alberti v. Klevenhagen, 688 F.Supp. 1210, aff'd in part, rev'd in part on other grounds, 903 F.......
  • Houghton v. Sipco, Inc.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Iowa
    • July 8, 1993
    ...as other cost items in the case. United Nuclear Corp. v. Cannon, 564 F.Supp. 581 (D.R.I.1983); see, e.g., Alberti v. Sheriff of Harris County, 688 F.Supp. 1176, 1202 (S.D.Tex.1987), modified sub nom., Alberti v. Klevenhagen, 688 F.Supp. 1210 (S.D.Tex.), aff'd in part and rev'd in part sub n......
  • Alberti v. Klevenhagen
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit
    • March 21, 1990
    ...and affidavits. The court considered hours expended during the period from filing until March 1, 1987. Alberti v. Sheriff of Harris County, 688 F.Supp. 1176, 1184 (S.D.Tex.1987). On September 1, 1987, the court entered an amended order awarding Oitzinger fees totaling $1,526,090.79 and awar......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Reductions
    • United States
    • Maryland State Bar Association Maryland Employment Law Deskbook (MSBA) Chapter Twenty-five Attorneys' Fees
    • Invalid date
    ...v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. at 440 (1983); City of Riverside v. Rivera, 477 U.S. 561 (1986).[170] Albertini v. Sheriff of Harris Cty., 688 F. Supp. 1176 (S.D. Tex. 1987), rev'd on other grounds, Alberti v. Klevenhagen, 896 F.2d 927 (5th Cir. 1990).[171] Goos v. Nat'l Ass'n of Realtors, 68 F.3d 1......

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