The attorneys for speeders in the New Miami speed camera case have asked the judge to award them 33 percent of the $3 million-plus judgment, or $1.1 million.
The attorneys want fees on 33 percent of the total amount — which is $3.4 million, including $367,560 worth of interest, calculated by plaintiffs’ attorneys at four percent. They noted attorney fee percentages in cases like this typically range from 25 percent to 33⅓ percent, but they negotiated a 33 percent fee with the named plaintiffs.
Judge Michael Oster ruled last month the village owes the speeders every penny it collected from the speed camera program that was deemed unconstitutional in 2014.
With the attorneys fees and other costs associated with the litigation subtracted, plaintiff’s attorney Josh Engel estimated the speeders can expect to get about $70 of the $95 they paid in fines for the illegal speeding tickets. Engel and the other attorneys in the case have also asked Oster to consider paying the four named plaintiff’s — six total with a couple spouses — $950 for the extra time they have given for things like depositions.
There are four attorneys representing the class of speeders — Engel, Mike Allen, Charlie Rittgers and Paul DeMarco. In their motion to get paid they say they have earned the contingency fee.
“These four senior attorneys brought to this case significant credentials, experience and expertise in complex litigation and class actions, including cases involving similarly complicated legal issues…,” the motion reads.
“This case was hardly a cakewalk for the attorneys representing the named plaintiffs and the other class members. The court is well aware that this litigation has been hard fought from the beginning,” Engel wrote. “At every stage of this case class counsel grappled with novel, complex liability and remedy issues and met with fierce resistance by determined opponents.”
Susan Schnell, a former Hamilton resident who got nabbed by the unconstitutional stationary speed cameras and paid her $95 ticket, said she doesn’t have an opinion on the attorneys fees but she wishes New Miami would give up the fight.
“It’s time for New Miami to stop fighting this and settle with those that they inappropriately charged and end it,” she said.
New Miami’s outside counsel James Englert called the speeders’ attorneys motion for attorney’s fee “odd” on a number of fronts. First off, he said by asking for this chunk of money the way they did it means the attorneys would get paid — if the village had the money — before any of the class members get theirs and none of the class members would get notification of the fee agreement, which violates due process.
“This is a common fund that belongs to plaintiffs and they have a due process interest in what happens to this money that has been obtained on their behalf, including any award of attorney fees,” Englert said. “Well, their (proposed) order doesn’t call for any kind of notice to plaintiffs to come in if anyone wants to enter an objection to it. That’s problematic.”
He also said normally there is some kind of hourly accounting for the judge to see, to determine if the proposed fees are reasonable. The time frame suggested — 30 days — for payment he said is also outside what’s is allowable by law. Englert in a motion to the judge said the village should have three and on up to 10 years to pay the judgment.
The village told the court earlier in the case it has $1.2 million in unencumbered funds but Englert said those funds are “considerably less than that” now. If the judge orders immediate payment Englert said the village doesn’t have enough money to pay.
“Even if the village said we’re not going to honor any of our commitments, we’re going to immediately stop all public services, we’re going to break all contracts, we’re not going to pay all of our workers, even if the village did all of those things immediately and just said take all the $1.2 million and we put it into the fund, okay, that’s it, the village operates no more,” he said.
“Then there’s $1.2 million in the fund, right off the top comes $1.1 million in attorneys fees and there’s nothing left.”
New Miami has filed a notice of appeal with the 12th District Court of Appeals and the plaintiffs have asked that court to dismiss on grounds it is premature. Oster has stayed all proceedings in the case pending resolution of the appeal.
Engel called the appeal another delaying tactic by the village.
“We again call on the Village to acknowledge its responsibility to pay back motorists fined under the unconstitutional scheme,” Engel said. “The Village needs to stop wasting money on lawyers pursuing long-shot appeals and focus on finding a way to resolve this injustice.”
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