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Attorneys for HBCUs seek more than $20M in fees in federal lawsuit

The plaintiffs in a lawsuit over segregation’s lingering impact on Maryland’s state universities are seeking more than $20 million in attorneys’ fees at the close of more than a decade of litigation.

The Coalition for Excellence and Equity in Maryland Higher Education, which filed suit in 2006 on behalf of Maryland’s four historically black colleges and universities, said the case was “the first of its kind ever to be prosecuted solely by private litigants,” according to court documents, and “featured two mediations, two lengthy trials, numerous motions and depositions, lengthy post-trial submissions, and lengthy expert reports from some of the nation’s preeminent experts in school desegregation.”

The plaintiffs’ motion, filed Nov. 21 in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, includes $12.3 million in fees for Kirkland & Ellis LLP; $6.8 million for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and $1.27 million for the Howard University School of Law’s Civil Rights Clinic. The plaintiffs also claim a combined $1.6 million in non-taxable litigation expenses.

The plaintiffs also filed a bill of costs with the court, which includes court reporter and transcript fees, copies and court filing fees totaling more than $220,000. The total omits approximately $150,000 in costs for copies of items used as deposition and trial exhibits and other duplication costs “out of an abundance of caution to limit the costs sought.”

The plaintiffs must now file a memorandum supporting the attorneys’ fees request. A defense response to the request then will be due within 14 day of receiving the memorandum.

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake issued an order Nov. 8 permanently enjoining the Maryland Higher Education Commission from “maintaining vestiges of the prior de jure system of segregation” and appointed a special master to oversee the creation of a remedial plan.

Blake had already ruled four years ago the state failed to effectively desegregate its institutions in violation of the Constitution. The parties failed to agree to a remedy after one year of mediation, and Blake heard arguments for competing plans across multiple weeks in January and February.

In her memorandum opinion earlier this month, Blake said “the State did not engage in a serious effort to propose a remedy prior to the hearing” and noted crafting a plan moving forward will require good-faith collaboration.

There is no cost estimate yet associated with carrying out the remedy, which will require funding for new programs and student recruitment at the HBCUs as part of a remedial plan due to the court in one year. One of the state’s initial proposals involved distributing $10 million in grants over six years to develop new, collaborative programs among all state universities; a second proposal provided for $50 million in funding over five years divided evenly between the HBCUs for enrollment management, student aid, campus inclusion initiatives and summer academies.

Blake’s order will expire in 10 years unless shortened or extended by the court, which retains jurisdiction to enforce compliance.

The case is Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education Inc. et al. v. Maryland Higher Education Commission et al., 1:06-cv-02773.

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One comment

  1. boyd20707@yahoo.com

    A very costly lawsuit.