The Daily Dawg reports many cases in which someone obtains a court order to get reimbursed for their attorneys’ fees. Almost all of those cases involve the plaintiff recovering from the defendant. So it is rare to find a case where the court orders the plaintiff to reimburse the defendant for attorneys’ fees expended. It’s even more rare when the court orders the lawyer who represented the plaintiff to chip in. But that’s what happened in Lewisville ISD.
The case was a challenge to LISD’s at-large voting system, alleging that it deprived racial minorities of having an equal shot at representation on the school board. So you would think that a suit like that would be filed by a person who is a member of one of those racial minorities. Usually such suits are. But in this case the plaintiff was a white male.
This was important. It’s not that white males cannot file suits under our Civil Rights laws. They can. But nobody can file a lawsuit unless they allege that they have personally suffered some “injury in fact.” This is fundamental. You can’t file a lawsuit alleging that somebody else has been injured. There are a few exceptions to that general rule, such as when a parent is authorized to file on behalf of a child, but no exceptions applied here. So here we have a white person alleging that the voting system is illegal because….because it favors white people. See the problem?
The district filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the plaintiff had not even alleged any injury that he had suffered, and thus he lacked “standing.” The court agreed and tossed the case out. Then the district sought its attorneys’ fees.
Now that is a steep hill to climb. It’s not enough to show that the court ruled in your favor. You also have to convince the court that this suit was “frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless.” To make the lawyer responsible for the fees you have to provide “clear and convincing evidence” of “bad faith, improper motive, or reckless disregard of the duty owed to the court.”
The court held that the district satisfied both of those standards and ordered the plaintiff and the law firm, Brewer Storefront, PLLC, to pony up $49,498.25 to reimburse LISD for fees expended.
In its defense, the law firm pointed out that it had successfully pursued cases under the Voting Rights Act like this one. That didn’t help them. Key Quote:
This assertion only provides further support for the Court’s finding that these experienced attorneys knew or should have known that [the plaintiff] had no standing to pursue his case.
The court also cited the manner in which the lawyers pursued the case, noting the four depositions “all of which lasted seven hours. And during these lengthy depositions, [the plaintiff’s] attorneys regularly strayed far afield from topics relevant to a voting rights case.
Our law firm handled this case for LISD and I think it provides an excellent example of how we at Walsh Gallegos strive to “help the people who help the kids.” Kudos to my partners, Meredith Walker, Craig Wood and Christine Badillo for the good advocacy that obtained this result. It’s Vaughan v. Lewisville ISD, decided by the federal court for the Eastern District of Texas on December 28, 2021.
DAWG BONE: YOU WEREN’T HURT? STAY OUT OF THE COURTHOUSE.
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