The state of Virginia, having lost its battle to defend a series of redistricting maps drawn up by the General Assembly, has agreed to pay $262,000 in legal fees to three statewide groups that opposed the plans.
The awards, reached in recent negotiations between the lawyers and the state attorney general's office, apparently amount to one of the largest fee settlements ever in a Virginia civil rights case, according to lawyers who received the award. Gov. Charles S. Robb personally approved the payments to lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, and Common Cause, according to a spokesman.
The settlements are in accord with a federal law requiring governments to foot the bill for the legal fees of organizations that successfully sue them in civil rights cases. Nevertheless, the reaction was swift and angry yesterday from at least one state legislator informed of them by a reporter.
"I think the state is getting ripped off," said House Minority Leader Vincent Callahan (R-Fairfax). "If these groups win their case against the state, fine, but should we have to pay their legal fees too? The taxpayers of this state were already paying for one side, now it's got to pay for both sides. I think it's a shame."
William Kolasky, a lawyer for the Washington firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, who represented Common Cause, said the legislature itself is to blame for the awards because it approved redistricting maps it had every reason to believe were unconstitutional.
"The legislators should have recognized they were running a substantial risk they would incur these expenses by proceeding with adopting these plans," said Kolasky.
The awards represent the latest cost to the state of a 16-month redistricting ordeal that required 14 special legislative sessions and the passage of five separate plans for the House of Delegates, all of which were rejected by either a federal court, the Justice Department, or former Republican Gov. John N. Dalton. Last year, the legislature hired the Richmond law firm of McGuire, Woods and Battle to defend its plans in court--and ended up with a $268,000 legal tab from the firm.
At the heart of the redistricting dispute was the House's insistence on preserving at-large multi-member legislative districts--a system that provided political protection for a handful of senior Democrats, mostly from the Hampton Roads area, but which advocates for the ACLU and NAACP charged diluted the voting strength of blacks.
The dispute didn't end until Robb reconvened another special session on April 1 and the beleagured legislators finally adopted a plan that included 100 single-member districts. A number of Southside counties, however, have recently filed objections to the districts' boundaries. Their cases are pending in federal court.
The largest of the settlements went to the ACLU, whose lawyers received a $97,000 check from the state this week. That includes $60,000 for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a Washington-based nonprofit group that represented the ACLU's case before the Justice Department and in federal court, according to Frank R. Parker of the Lawyer's Committee.
Another $34,000 will go to the ACLU's Richmond office to reimburse its two top staffers, Chan Kendrick, ACLU executive director, and Judy Goldberg, its lobbyist. This is supposed to be for 1,621 hours of "technical assistance," although Parker ackowledged that this includes time spent lobbying the General Assembly.
Common Cause will receive a total of $95,000, almost all of which will go to the Wilmer, Cutler firm. The NAACP has already received $70,000, two-thirds of which will go to the firm of Henry L. Marsh III, the group's local counsel who is also a Richmond city council member and former mayor.
Robb Press Secretary George Stoddart defended the settlements yesterday as "in the best interests of the Commonwealth. . . We were handed a case that we lost, and the court required that the fees be paid, so we negotiated the best reimbursement that we could," Stoddart said.