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Judge Awards Florida Redistricting Plaintiffs Some (But Not All) Legal Fees

Cantero (left) speaking after the hearing.
Nick Evans

Florida is not responsible for the lion's share of costs associated with the fight over its congressional borders after a judge's ruling Thursday.  Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled plaintiffs can recover a portion of their legal costs, but he pointedly left out attorneys' fees.

The coalition of voting rights groups that took Florida’s Legislature to court is looking to recover money under a doctrine known as the “private attorney general.”  The idea is to let citizens file lawsuits for the benefit of the broader public.  To encourage this, some states allow plaintiffs to recover legal fees when they win their cases. 

League of Women Voters attorney David King says this case offers a chance to set that precedent in Florida.

“There is no decision in Florida allowing fees under the private attorney general doctrine at this time,” King says. “We think this is the appropriate case for that principle.  When citizens vindicate public rights they ought to receive their attorneys' fees.”

But Raoul Cantero, counsel for the Florida Senate, says the plaintiffs’ claims are baseless.   

“Private attorney general doctrine has never been adopted in Florida, so [the plaintiffs] had no basis there,” Cantero says.  “They tried to argue that we litigated in bad faith, just because we represented our client.  They couldn’t identify any one thing that the Legislature – either the House or the Senate – did in bad faith.”

Lewis ruled the plaintiffs can demand fees for a number of administrative bills – things like printing, travel, and court reporters – but he did not award attorneys' fees.  Lawyers for both sides will meet to hash out the final amount of the plaintiffs' claim.  But King says the plaintiffs plan to appeal in hopes of recovering the full cost of attorneys' fees.