WASHINGTON — The District of Columbia has been ordered to pay more than $1 million in attorneys’ fees as a result of a historic gun case that was ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Dick Heller sued the city in 2003 over its ban on handgun ownership and the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the ban in June 2008, saying it violated the Second Amendment.
A federal judge on Thursday issued an opinion awarding Heller’s attorneys $1,137,072.27 in fees and expenses. The attorneys had argued they should be awarded $3.1 million. Attorneys for the city said the figure should be closer to $840,000.
District of Columbia Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan, the head of the office that represents the city in legal matters, said in a statement that Heller’s lawyers had requested an “outlandish fee.” Nathan praised the U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan’s decision not to accept the full hourly rate the attorneys had requested or the full number of hours they had billed for.
Heller’s lead lawyer, Alan Gura, says his team is still studying the opinion and possible next steps. Gura said he is pleased with much of the opinion, but he said the fee calculation the judge used was outdated and that lawyers doing similar work in Washington are typically compensated at a higher rate. The judge’s opinion awards Gura approximately $662,000 for more than 1,500 hours of work on the case, paying him at a rate of $420 per hour. Five other members of Heller’s team are also compensated.
After the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2008, the city rewrote its gun laws and for the first time in more than 30 years permitted handgun ownership. The new laws, however, include numerous registration requirements.
Those requirements prompted Heller to sue again, saying that the new laws are too restrictive. That case is still pending, with a federal appeals court ruling in October that the city must provide evidence justifying what it called “novel” handgun registration requirements including vision tests. The city is considering changes to the law that, if implemented, could impact the case.