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Fee Enhancement For Successful OPRA Complaint Against Bergen County Prosecutor's Office - Rivera v. BCPO

Per The New Jersey Law Journal:

"In an opinion that could serve as a primer for enhanced legal fees in OPRA cases, Bergen County's top judge has awarded $10,445 to a requester of records from the county prosecutor's office.

"The opinion clarified a host of issues, including what makes someone a prevailing party under the Open Public Records Act, when contingency fee enhancements are available and which attorney activities can be counted in calculating the lodestar.

"Assignment Judge Peter Doyne held in Rivera v. Office of the County Prosecutor, No. BER-L-4310-12, that a records requester can recover fees at his or her lawyer's regular hourly rate for time spent traveling to and from court, preparing the fee application, typing up documents and reviewing prior cases handled by the same lawyer."

From the Decision:

"Regarding the fourth factor, RPC § 1.5(a) instructs courts to evaluate the fee amount involved and the ultimate results obtained by the client.  First, Luers’ hourly rate multiplied by the time expended yields a reasonable lodestar of $8,057.50.  See supra, p. 11, for the discussion of the reasonableness of the fee charged by Luers for his services.  Second, plaintiff reports that 95% of the originally redacted names had been released in non-redacted form as a result of the court’s ruling.  In NJDPM, the court awarded plaintiff’s counsel 100% of the proposed attorney’s fee despite obtaining only 70% of the documents requested.  185 N.J. at 147.  Defendants argue that limited success calls for a limited reward.  Rivera sought disclosure of names to determine whether minorities were subject to greater uses of force than the remainder of the population.  The disclosed UFRs do not provide a race or alienage of the individual involved, only a name.  No scientific evidence exists regarding the connection between a last name and race.  As defendants’ counsel noted, there is nothing to say Whoopi Goldberg is Jewish or Senator Kevin O’Toole is Irish.  The defendants’ argument that the lodestar should be reduced to reflect a limited success is not persuasive.  Luers’ “95% success rate” thus justifies the award of a reasonable fee."

More after the jump...