The Prince George's County Board of Education has been ordered to pay $372,942 in lawyers' fees and expenses incurred by the NAACP over four years in its school desegregation lawsuit against the board.
In an opinion received yesterday by attorneys in the case, U.S. District Judge Frank A. Kaufman awarded the fees to the Washington law firm of Hogan & Hartson, which has represented the NAACP in its suit alleging segregation in the county's schools.
The decision to award fees to the NAACP did not come as a surprise, according to Board Chairwoman Bonnie Johns. "It was known this was a possibility, the only question was how much," she said.
But Johns said she regretted that the money will be spent on the court case rather than education. Such an expense is one reason she didn't vote along with her colleagues to appeal Kaufman's 1983 decision ordering the schools to further desegregate, she said.
Johns said, "These are dollars that by necessity we have to find." However, board attorney Paul M. Nussbaum said he would recommend that the board appeal the fee award.
Joseph M. Hassett, one of the attorneys for the black civil rights organization in the case, said the award "recognizes that our firm made a significant contribution to bringing about the effort for more desegregation in Prince George's County," he said.
In his opinion, Kaufman said the board did not challenge that the NAACP was the "prevailing party" in the case, permitting it to apply for attorneys' fees in federal civil rights lawsuits. The board did argue, however, that no fees should be awarded because the NAACP prevailed on only one of seven claims. The board also said the requested fees were unreasonable and, in some cases, excessive.
NAACP attorneys had sought $663,498 in fees and expenses. Kaufman cut that to $355,550 in fees and $17,392 in expenses.
Hogan & Hartson has handled the NAACP case without charge.
"The plaintiffs' attorneys have made a big deal of the fact they were doing a gesture of kindness," Nussbaum said. "That's a lot of money to do for kindness."