The legal team for black students in the Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District has asked for $274,633.90 from the district for legal work done since June 1, 2017, in an ongoing federal school desegregation lawsuit.
That figure covers fees and expenses for six people — including state Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, who is the lead attorney for the class of students most commonly known as the Joshua intervenors in the 36-year-old case.
The hourly rates range from $70 an hour for the work of two assistants to as much as $450 an hour for 253.83 hours for Walker.
The request also includes a $360-an-hour rate for attorney Robert Pressman, who billed for 150.81 hours, and $350 an hour for attorney Austin Porter Jr., who billed for 60.85 hours. Joy Springer, a longtime legal assistant and school monitor in the Walker law firm, billed $137.50 an hour for 497.5 hours.
The requests for legal fees and expenses were submitted to U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr., who is the presiding judge in the case and the person who will decide whether the intervenors are entitled to reimbursement from the Jacksonville/North Pulaski district.
The requested amount is an adjustment to an initial request of $302,113.85 — changes made after Scott Richardson, an attorney for the Jacksonville/North Pulaski district, asked the judge to either deny the request for fees and costs, or that any fees awarded be significantly reduced.
In its requests to the judge for fees on Nov. 2 and Dec. 12, the Joshua legal team argued that it should be compensated for time it spent monitoring the Jacksonville/North Pulaski district’s compliance with parts of the Pulaski County Special School District’s desegregation plan, including sections on student discipline, student achievement, staffing and equitable school facilities.
The Jacksonville/North Pulaski district was carved out of the Pulaski Special district and began independent operation in July 2016. As a condition of the detachment from Pulaski Special, the Jacksonville district must meet the requirements of the Pulaski Special district’s court-approved school desegregation plan.
The Joshua intervenors told the judge that they are the prevailing party in the case and that “monitoring implementation of a remedy is a crucial part of the plaintiffs’ function in a case like this one.”
The judge held a court hearing in February on the Jacksonville/North Pulaski district’s compliance in regard to staffing and facilities.
“It is reasonable to conclude that Intervenors’ monitoring contributed to the level of compliance found by the court,” the Joshua attorneys wrote to the judge about the hearing in the subsequent petition for fees.
Additionally, the Joshua attorneys said the team should be compensated for time spent preparing the hearing and for time spent seeking individuals in the Jacksonville/North Pulaski district to serve as representatives of the class of black students and their families.
Richardson, the attorney for the Jacksonville district, argued in his response to the fee request that Marshall had granted the Jacksonville district’s motion for unitary status in staffing and facilities with some modifications.
“Given their limited success, the Joshua intervenor’s fee request should be sharply discounted,” Richardson wrote to the judge and suggested $14,386.33 as an appropriate amount.
Richardson, who charges the Jacksonville/North Pulaski district $250 an hour for his work, wrote that many of the fees submitted by the intervenors are “redundant, inefficient and simply unnecessary.”
He objected to the number of hours charged by the intervenors for preparing for a hearing in which the intervenors were largely unsuccessful. And he objected to the intervenors charging fees for the selection of a person to represent the class of black students in the case, saying that the intervenors should have handled it on their own years ago.
He also argued against the Jacksonville/North Pulaski district paying the intervenors for their involvement in the Charles W. Donaldson Scholars Academy at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Both the Pulaski County Special and Jacksonville districts contributed financially to the scholars academy that was created to provide summer programs and other supports to prepare students from the two districts for success in college.
“The Donaldson Scholars program has its own staff and own monitoring protocols that were funded by the Districts’ steep investment in this program,” Richardson wrote. “The Joshua intervenors efforts in this area are simply redundant and not compensable.”
Richardson told the judge that “charging the district with fees for Joshua intervenors would only compound the financial burden to the district, especially in light of the aggressive schedule for building facilities required by the Court.”
The Joshua intervenors have been a party in the school desegregation lawsuit since the mid-1980s when the Little Rock and North Little Rock school districts and representatives of the state of Arkansas were also parties. Periodically, the parties have reimbursed the Joshua intervenors for legal expenses in addition to paying their own attorneys in the long-running case.
In September 2016, for example, Marshall directed the Pulaski County Special district to pay $1.4 million to the Joshua intervenors for work done by the legal team between July 1, 2012, and May 31, 2016.
Metro on 01/02/2019