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File pass-off can’t pump fee award

As March Madness wanes, like a hoopster’s fadeaway jumper, indulge us please in one more basketball reference. We can’t let a good one get away.

Charlottesville’s U.S. Magistrate Judge B. Waugh Crigler already had decided to award fees to lawyers for Pacel Corporation in Calkins v. Pacel Corp. for its opponent’s violation of federal discovery rules and the parties’ own joint discovery plan. But the amount the lawyers asked for on March 25 made Crigler blow the whistle.

Pacel’s lawyers requested $23,498.60, based on hourly rates ranging from $215 to $370. The hourly rate was the first sticking point. Crigler pointed out that Western District courts generally find $250 to be a reasonable hourly rate. Beyond that, he was “concerned with how many attorneys were reasonably necessary to pursue discovery compliance” in the case, especially in light of the $155 per hour spread in lawyer rates.

“While in basketball, the ‘three touch’ rule may lead to effective scoring opportunities, such a practice raises substantial issues of reasonableness in the context of fee shifting. In other words, a party’s default in providing discovery does not, ipso facto, expose that party to all that could be billed to a client who voluntarily engages the services of a well-stabled law firm,” Crigler wrote. Paring the hourly rate, he ultimately awarded $18,850.

So if you’re feeling like a Harlem Globetrotter, save it for that other court.

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