A three-judge panel awarded Attorney General Edwin Meese III $472,190 yesterday for legal fees he incurred while under investigation by an independent counsel, two-thirds of the $720,824 his lawyers had requested.
In a one-page decision, the judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said, among other things, that Meese's lawyers could not be reimbursed for the time they spent dealing with the media. The lead attorneys, Leonard Garment and E. Bob Wallach, have estimated that they spent 10 to 15 percent of their time responding to allegations of misconduct in the press.
In lopping nearly $250,000 off the legal bills, the judges said they had considered such factors as "the reasonableness of the time expended" by the lawyers and "the rates charged for that time," which were up to $250 an hour. The judges said they also considered whether Meese would have incurred the legal fees if not for the independent counsel's probe and the extent to which that probe duplicated other government investigations. Meese had requested that an independent counsel investigate allegations against him.
Under the Ethics in Government Act, a federal official who comes under investigation by an independent counsel but later is cleared is entitled to petition the government for reimbursement of his expenses.
Independent counsel Jacob A. Stein concluded in September after a six-month probe that no basis existed for prosecuting Meese for a variety of allegations. These included charges that he failed to properly disclose a $15,000 interest-free loan to his wife from a family friend, and that he played a role in obtaining federal jobs for persons who had assisted him financially.
The Senate confirmed Meese in February, 13 months after President Reagan nominated the former White House counselor as attorney general.
The Justice Department, which had questioned the fee request earlier this year, had no comment yesterday, and Meese's office referred inquiries to Garment and Wallach.
Garment issued a one-sentence statement calling the court decision "thoughtful and fair." The appellate panel ruled that Garment's Washington law firm, Dickstein, Shapiro & Moran, will receive $357,515 in fees and $37,805 in expenses. The firm had asked for $533,327 in fees and $45,034 in expenses for more than 6,000 hours of work.
The panel awarded $76,870 in legal fees to Wallach, a little more than half the $142,562 the San Francisco-based lawyer had requested. In a reference to Wallach, the panel cited "the failure of one counsel to keep contemporaneous records of time spent representing Edwin Meese III."
Wallach said in a statement that he is "delighted" with the decision and that "I consider the amount full compensation for my legal services." He said it was "a unique privilege" to represent "one of America's great public servants" and that the decision "ends a difficult chapter in the lives of Edwin and Ursula Meese."
Stein, who also had questioned the $250 an hour in fees sought by Garment and Wallach, could not be reached yesterday. Stein had argued that it was Justice Department policy to pay outside lawyers $75 an hour and that he was reimbursed at that rate.
Meese apparently will not be saddled with the remaining legal bill. His attorneys had said they would accept whatever compensation the court approved and would not try to collect the balance from Meese.
Meese's lawyers itemized their billings according to the various allegations against him, such as questions about his promotion in the Army Reserve, his acceptance of cufflinks from a foreign government and whether he knew that Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign had obtained briefing papers from President Jimmy Carter.