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The Trouble with Collecting Attorney's Fees

The Trouble with Collecting Attorney's Fees

We recently participated in two oral arguments involving the issue of attorney fees in front of the United States Court of Appeals Seventh Circuit. In both cases the Plaintiff was awarded damages and we were subsequently awarded attorney’s fees—but not without a lot of pushback from the City of Chicago. The audio of the 25-minute oral arguments is posted below and can hear our reasoning that if the City is not forced to pay the fees, they have less incentive to discipline rogue cops.

The first clip regards Montanez v. Fico, where a jury awarded our Plaintiff damages upon finding the Defendant, a Chicago Police Officer, beat him up. According to what the law says should happen when a Plaintiff wins, the attorneys subsequently sought to collect attorney fees from the City of Chicago. The Judge awarded fees but cut them by more than one-third. We appealed, arguing that such a ruling makes it less likely that attorneys will bring low-damage cases against police officers who assault people.

In the second clip, Richardson v. Macon, the Defendant (an off-duty police officer) shot at our client over a dispute over a woman. As in Montanez, the jury awarded damages to our client and we were awarded attorney fees. But the court ruled that the City of Chicago did not have to pay them because the officer was the only one responsible.

We asked this during the Richardson and it also pertains to Montanez: “As a policy matter do we really want to let officers who do clearly do something outrageous not have any incentive to be punished by the city of Chicago?” Take a minute to listen to the oral arguments; they provide insight not only into the process and problems of collecting damages and fees, but also the dynamics between opposing counsel and judges.

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