Attorneys square off in battle about Citadel case legal fees
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) _ Lawyers who challenged The Citadel’s all-male admissions policy in a heated court battle asked a federal judge today to award them millions of dollars in legal fees.
``They fought us every step of the way. They fought us on everything,″ attorney Val Vojdik said at the opening of a hearing on the request for $6.7 million in fees and costs. ``A holy war was waged over the admission of women.″
She said the request for fees from the attorneys who fought to get Shannon Faulkner into the military college was reasonable.
Ms. Vojdik said 49 attorneys and legal assistants spent 23,406 hours on the litigation that took almost five years. The state and the military college used 168 attorneys and assistants and spent 25,385 hours defending it, she said.
But attorney Bobby Hood, representing the state, said the fee request was ``full of excess″ and charged for things like couriers, overtime and lunches that South Carolina attorneys do not charge clients for.
Noting that Ms. Vojdik submitted bills for $1.3 million while The Citadel’s lead attorney, Dawes Cooke, had fees of $300,000, Hood said, ``That will tell you in great deal why we can’t reach an agreement.″
Hood told U.S. District Judge C. Weston Houck that about $3 million would reflect the true costs.
Courts can award fees in civil rights and similar cases to ensure that people will be able to find lawyers to bring such suits. A judge determines whether the bills are reasonable. The state argues that no such fees are merited in this case.
The Citadel dropped its all-male policy a year ago after the Supreme Court ruled a similar policy at Virginia Military Institute was unconstitutional. Four women enrolled last year, but two dropped out amid claims of hazing and harassment. State and federal authorities are investigating the claims.
The lawyers first represented Ms. Faulkner, who dropped out after a week in August 1995; Nancy Mellette, who opted to pursue a West Point education; and a group of women veterans.
The women who hired the lawyers said the cost was driven up because they had to go out of state for representation.
``Public sentiment opposing the lawsuit was loud, bitter and overwhelming,″ they said in court documents. ``No local law firm with adequate resources was willing to fight such a tide.″
The Citadel’s lawyers say the attorneys should not get any fees, arguing that the VMI case opened the gates to women, not the Faulkner case.
School officials have said insurance money, private donations and even state funds could be tapped if The Citadel is ordered to pay the fees.