The opinion of the court was delivered by: LAMBERTH
This case comes before this court on plaintiffs' motion for an award of attorney's fees and costs under 42 U.S.C. § 1988, the Civil Rights Attorney's Fee Award Act of 1976. Having considered the extensive memoranda and evidence of both parties, this court shall grant plaintiffs' motion, awarding plaintiffs $ 247,809.87 in attorney's fees and costs. A separate order shall issue this date.
The case underlying this attorney's fee litigation is an action alleging the violation of First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of two District of Columbia schoolteachers, Sheriel Sexcius and William Edmead, who had spoken out regarding certain educational practices. Attorneys Francine K. Weiss and Edith Barnett represented the teachers, working together in this case as they had long done on other cases.
Ms. Weiss was lead counsel and the point of contact between plaintiffs and counsel and witnesses. (She and Ms. Barnett were aided by three law students, who helped organize documents and research.)
Ms. Weiss and Ms. Barnett won for their clients a permanent injunction forbidding Woodson High School Principal Lucile Christian, Director of the Public School Certification and Accreditation Branch Mary B. Hendrick, the superintendent of schools, the District of Columbia, and the mayor from infringing on plaintiffs' constitutional rights and from retaliating against plaintiffs in the workplace again for speaking out on their educational views. In an order accompanying the resolution of the merits of plaintiffs' claim, this court determined that plaintiffs are entitled to reasonable attorney's fees and costs. See Sexcius v. District of Columbia, No. 88-2104, slip op. at 52 (D.D.C. Oct. 15, 1992). The issue now before this court is what constitutes reasonable attorney's fees and costs in this case.
"The initial estimate of a reasonable attorney's fee" -- the so-called lodestar fee -- "is properly calculated by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation times a reasonable hourly rate." Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 888, 79 L. Ed. 2d 891, 104 S. Ct. 1541 (1984) (citations omitted).
To determine the lodestar, this court will determine, in turn, the reasonable hourly rate and the reasonable number of hours billed by counsel.
1. Reasonable Hourly Rate
Plaintiffs claim compensation at a billing rate of $ 260 per hour, which is (they claim) the prevailing market rate for lawyers with their legal experience. Defendants argue that the appropriate rate is no more than $ 100 per hour, the rate that plaintiffs paid their counsel throughout this litigation under a retainer agreement. Because plaintiffs' counsel charged plaintiffs this low $ 100 rate out of public interest motives, plaintiffs are entitled to collect the prevailing market rate, not merely the rate they actually charged plaintiffs.
a. Counsel Charged Reduced Rates in the Public Interest
Plaintiffs' counsel have a tradition of charging their less wealthy clients below-market rates when their cases are important to the public interest. In the present case, for example, because plaintiffs were public school teachers -- in the words of their counsel, "not wealthy people" -- their counsel agreed to charge them only $ 100 per hour, a "rate they could afford." (Defendants have conceded that this $ 100 rate is below the market rate.)
Counsel charged them this reduced rate in order to take plaintiffs' case, which posed important constitutional questions and affected the educational interests of the city's public school students. (Barnett Decl. (Reply) at P 6; Weiss Decl. (Reply) at P 7.)
b. Prevailing Market Rate
Although plaintiffs are clearly entitled to a fee award calculated at the rates prevailing in the relevant legal market,
the parties disagree as to which market of legal services is the "relevant market" in this case.
Plaintiffs argue that the matrices and other evidence they have produced, charting the rates charged by lawyers across the District of Columbia for complicated federal litigation, establish the prevailing market rate. This matrix-based evidence would award counsel $ 260 per hour.
Defendants challenge plaintiffs' matrix-based evidence as too broad to be useful. Plaintiffs' matrices and other evidence survey rates that District of Columbia lawyers earn from commercial clients for performing "general legal services," rates far higher than those the market awards for plaintiffs' civil rights work. (Defs.' Opp'n, at 11.) Ms. Weiss might earn $ 260 per hour from a commercial client for her general legal services; for her civil rights work for plaintiffs, by contrast, the market would provide her no more than $ 125-$ 150 per hour,