Lawyer asks for $10M in desegregation case
The attorney who filed the original desegregation lawsuit against the St. Landry Parish School Board in 1965 is seeking nearly $10 million in legal fees for his work on the case over the past 46 years.
Opelousas attorney Marion Overton White has asked a federal judge to award him a fee of $700 an hour for 14,136.5 hours of work on the case — a total bill of $9,895,550.
U.S. District Judge Tucker Melancon has set a June 23 court date to consider the request, but attorneys for the School Board have asked for more time to review the billing information submitted by White.
Superintendent Michael Nassif said Tuesday that any fees awarded to White would be paid by the School Board, and $10 million represents about 10 percent of the school system's annual budget of about $100 million.
"That's going to be a very tight situation," Nassif said.
The St. Landry desegregation case came to an end in March with a settlement agreement between the School Board and the U.S. Justice Department
The agreement requires the School Board to continue policies that ensure a desegregated school system and to move forward with a science magnet program at the majority black Opelousas High School.
White, the attorney for the original plaintiffs in the case, has been involved in the litigation for decades. He is entitled to seek legal fees for his work, but the amount will be set by Melancon.
In court filings, White asks for a base rate of $350 an hour multiplied by two because of the complexity and length of the case, as well as the political difficulties of pursuing a desegregation case for more than 40 years.
A $700-per-hour rate was requested last year by attorneys for three plaintiffs in the Tangipahoa Parish desegregation lawsuit, and the judge in that case wrote that the amount was not unusual for civil rights litigation.
The attorneys in the Tangipahoa case had asked for a total of about $2 million for three years worth of legal fees and expenses, but they ultimately agreed to accept $874,000.
In court filings arguing for the $10 million in fees, White wrote that "the whole community owes attorney White a debt of gratitude for his steadfast faith in the legal system that helped to move this state and nation away from the hatred of racial apartheid as it existed when this case began. The failure to award reasonable attorney's fees would be a travesty of justice."
White, a well-known local figure in the civil rights movement, also cited what he characterized as "the outstanding results achieved and benefits to the community in progress toward developing a unitary school system free from the taint of racial discrimination."
White has asked for an interim payment of $500,000 pending a final determination of the full amount he should be paid.