The bill for Heller: $3.5 million
Lawyers who won the historic Second Amendment gun rights case in the Supreme Court — District of Columbia v. Heller (07-290) — on Monday asked a federal judge to award them more than $3.5 million for attorneys’ fees, plus $13,215.30 for expenses and court costs. In a motion and memorandum filed with U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, the attorneys said that they had achieved “one of the most profound and important victories available under our system of justice.”
Their argument also suggested that this was a David vs. Goliath clash, with the attorneys on their far side far outnumbered in lawyers, legal resources and government funding.
Their motion said the lawyers expect that the District of Columbia government will oppose their fee and expenses request, but added that they had not yet received a formal response.
Looking back at the case, the memorandum remarked: “Throughout it all, [the challengers'] legal team consisted primarily of the three undersigned attorneys, with occasional support from a small handful of others, all working on a pro bono basis.” The three are Alexandria attorneys Alan Gura and Clark M. Neily III, plus Robert A. Levy of the Cato Institute, “who also personally bore all the expenses of the litigation,” according to the document.
The filing said that Gura had asked for “an exiguous payment” [dictionary definition: excessively scanty] to get involved, but “never saw this as anything other than a pro bono case.” He asked that the Court keep confidential the details of that arrangement, but said the details would be disclosed if the Court required it. The last payment under that deal was received in mid-2003, the document said. The case was filed originally in District Court in February 2003.
The memorandum said that, in addition to a base amount on hourly rates, a multiplier had been added because this was an “exceptional case.” It added: “If this is not an ‘exceptional case’ warranting an enhancement multiplier, we are at a loss to describe what case would qualify.”
The resulting fee claim was based, for example, on an hourly rate for Gura of $557 per hour, times a 2.0 enhancement for 1,661 hours, resulting in a claim for $1,850,354, and an hourly rate of the same size for Neily times the same enhancement for 808.3 hours, resulting in $900,446.20. Levy’s claim was for $663,498.40. Overall, the claim for seven attorneys’ time totaled $3,559,097.20.
Among the expenses and costs claim totaling $13,215.30, the largest sums were for payments to attorneys Stephen Halbrook, a Fairfax, Va., attorney who has long been associated with court cases over Second Amendment rights ($3,250), and Don Kates ($4,400).
The challengers to District of Columbia gun laws — including a flat ban on private possession of pistols in the home or anywhere other than a business — lost in District Court, but won in the D.C. Circuit and in the Supreme Court. The Justices’ 5-4 decision, announced on June 26, the final day of the last Term, declared for the first time in history that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to have a functioning gun for use in self-defense in the home.
In the Supreme Court, the local gun ban was challenged by a government security guard who lives in Washington, Dick Anthony Heller. After the Court ruled, and the D.C. government set up a new regime of licensing of pistols, Heller filed a new lawsuit in federal court challenging the new approach as too restrictive. (He has since had his pistol registered under the new regulations.) Attorney Halbrook is the lead counsel in that case.
Two other District residents joined in the lawsuit (Heller, et al., v. District of Columbia, et al., District Court docket 08-1289), now pending before District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina. The District government’s response to the lawsuit is now due on Thursday of this week.