Just yesterday I finished a federal appellate brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. GCB Communications, Inc. v. U.S. South Communications, Inc. The case is about an arcane area of telecom regulation — payphone compensation — but presents some serious legal questions regarding the role of federal courts and the authority of regulatory agencies like the FCC. It’s even got a constitutional (due process) question.
So the moral of the story is that little cases (this one involves all of $18,000) can raise big issues. Now, as explained in the brief, the court of appeals will decide whether awarding legal fees of some $80K on a lawsuit in which the plaintiffs won less than $20K is a sensible result under a federal law allowing “reasoanable” attorneys’ fees.
Oh, first the court has to agree that my clients should have lost at trial under the law and the evidence introduced!! (For the non-lawyer audience, that’s because the court could reverse the trial court judgment “on the merits,” in which case the plaintiffs, now “appellees,” lose, and not have to reach the issue of legal fees.)
Here’s my favorite line from the brief:
Lawsuits as economic blackmail should not be rewarded with hugely disproportionate attorneys’ fees, especially when a complaint is used principally for monetary leverage.
What do you think about that?