We Earned the Fees in the Gun Case

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Vindication of fundamental civil rights is not an "injury," and asking that the government be held liable for the cost of enforcing our civil rights laws is no "insult" ["Holding Up Taxpayers," editorial, Sept. 6].

Enforcement of our nation's civil rights laws depends on attracting qualified lawyers to fight government agencies with endless resources on behalf of ordinary people who cannot afford legal services.

Awarding successful civil rights lawyers below-market rates for taking such enormous risks would send the bar a terrible message: Ignore injustice, unless you can afford to fight it.

Our requested rates are based on documented market realities, not on the government's wishes about what it would like to pay.

I was shocked at The Post's suggestion that civil rights lawyers are somehow the lesser relations of those who work in "megafirms" serving the Fortune 500. In any event, I and three other members of our team have worked or are still working in those "megafirms."

And if we are such lousy lawyers, how did we manage to beat the city's militia of lawyers, including three of the biggest of the "megafirms" in town?

The Supreme Court also instructs that civil rights victories in exceptional cases entitle the prevailing lawyers to enhanced fees. Our request for fee enhancement is in line with what cases involving abortion, gay rights, police misconduct and other important issues have earned the lawyers who were brave enough to back them. Would The Post feel differently if we had vindicated a right about which it were more enthusiastic, say, freedom of the press?

If the city doesn't want to pay civil rights lawyers' fees, it should obey the Constitution. Freedom isn't free.



The writer was lead counsel for Dick A. Heller in District of Columbia v. Heller, the case in which the District's ban on handgun ownership was overturned .

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