Pulaski County Special School District ordered to pay $300,000 in attorney fees for black students in 39-year-old desegregation case

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U.S. District Chief Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. on Friday ordered the Pulaski County Special School District to pay a total of $325,098.13 to attorneys and instructors for black students in a federal school desegregation lawsuit from 39 years old.

The payment — $5,968.75 in out-of-pocket expenses and $319,129.38 in fees — is to be made by the district over one year, in 12 monthly installments, beginning Feb. 15, Marshall said.

The payment ordered covers between 40% and 100% of legal fees, desegregation monitoring fees and expenses requested by desegregation attorneys and monitors. The class of all black students in the Pulaski County Special District were originally known as the Joshua intervenors, but more recently as the McClendon intervenors in the desegregation case.

“The intervenors’ motion, as amended, seeks approximately $600,000 for oversight and litigation related to the PCSSD between 2017 and 2021,” Marshall wrote in a seven-page order.

“Just $400,000 of that amount is for the work of the lawyers and the rest is for the work of the paralegals and monitors. Asking hourly rates range from $450 to $70.00. account the details of this part of this long-running case,” he said.

This consideration resulted in the use of blended hourly rates ranging from $80 per hour for two desegregation monitors – Charles Bolden and Marva Smith – who are not attorneys, to $310 for attorneys Austin Porter Jr. and Robert Pressman, and $360 per hour. for attorney John Walker, who led the legal team until his death in October 2019.

[DOCUMENT: Read the federal court order on legal fees » arkansasonline.com/129legalfees/]

Legal assistant and monitor representative Joy Springer, D-Little Rock, will be paid at the rate of $110 per hour.

The judge then examined the hours of work reported by the team of interveners.

“The Court is rewarding all the time lawyers have spent on oversight,” he wrote. “The attorneys investigated and vented the Mills/Robinson issues, and other PCSSD matters, as required. They also participated in court-ordered monthly meetings and hearings.”

The judge adjusted the hours submitted by Springer, Bolden and Smith, specifically reducing the hours claimed for working with student-related programs and services that he said were commendable but non-compensable supervisory work.

Regarding the litigation-related fee claim, Marshall said the attorneys and Springer worked hard to prepare and present their case during a three-week hearing in July 2020. During that hearing, intervenors argues that the district failed to meet its desegregation obligations in student achievement, student discipline, facility equalization, and self-monitoring.

“The issues were complicated,” Marshall wrote. “The Court’s full May 2021 order owes much to the efforts of attorneys.”

Marshall had ruled last May that the Pulaski and Jacksonville/North Pulaski County Special Districts had fulfilled their desegregation obligations and were unitary in all areas except facilities.

“The intervenors insist that they were bound to oppose the PCSSD’s request for unitary status on all issues, and therefore seek payment for all their work, even if they prevailed in one of the four areas,” Marshall said in Friday’s order. “PCSSD responds that success carries the most weight in precedent, and speaker success has been limited, which should be reflected in the honorarium award.”

“Both sides are right to some degree,” Marshall said.

Responders prevailed only on facilities and that a fee award of 25% of the amount they seek might reflect those results, Marshall said, but he instead opted for a 40% award of the time that the legal team moved on to litigate the issue of unitary status.

“[T]Many people of good will disagreed on the fidelity of PCSSD’s efforts to eliminate vestiges of segregation as much as possible in these areas,” Marshall said. “This disagreement had to be explored by evidence and decided. The public interest was served by putting all the facts on the record so that the Court could apply the applicable law to those facts. In this sense, a trial was necessary.

“And there’s a timing issue,” he continued. “The fees cover several years of work, and it will be another year before the speakers are fully paid.”

Friday’s order was the fourth this week issued by Marshall on various issues in the desegregation lawsuit. Earlier in the week, the judge had approved:

• A fee settlement between the Black student attorneys and the Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District.

• Plans to upgrade Mills University Studies High School in the Pulaski County Special District with 10 additional classrooms, a 2,200-seat arena, new space for the JROTC program and a new softball field.

• Ended the appointment of Margie Powell, its desegregation expert since 2014, saying the stakes in the case had fallen as the services of an expert to advise him were no longer needed.

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