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In re Mandate of Funds for lake Superior Court

Supreme Court of Indiana

May 16, 2019

In the Matter of Mandate of Funds for the Lake Superior Court; Lake County Council and Lake County Auditor, Appellants/Cross-Appellees,
v.
The Hon. John R. Pera, et al., Appellees/Cross-Appellants.

          Review from the Lake Superior Court, No. 45D10-1702-CB-3 The Honorable W. Tobin McClamroch, Special Judge On Automatic Review under Trial Rule 60.5(B) and Appellate Rule 61

          All Justices concur. ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANTS/CROSS-APPELLEES Anthony W. Overholt Maggie L. Smith Frost Brown Todd LLC Indianapolis, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES/CROSS-APPELLANTS Jeffrey C. McDermott William J. Barkimer Krieg DeVault LLP Carmel, Indiana

          OPINION

          PER CURIAM

         In this mandate-of-funds action, the parties' only remaining dispute is over what attorney's fees and expenses the Judges of the Lake Superior Court should recover. The parties put this question to the Special Judge, who ruled that the Judges are entitled to recover $176, 467.17. Having reviewed each side's challenge to that award, we affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         Early in 2017, fourteen Judges of the Lake Superior Court issued an Order for Mandate of Funds under Indiana Trial Rule 60.5. The order found that valuable court employees are underpaid, endangering the court's ability to continue operating in an efficient manner. The order required the Lake County Council and the Lake County Auditor (collectively, "the Council") to provide funding, including scheduled raises, for court employees. The order covered over 170 court employees in twelve job classifications. According to the Council, complying with the order would cost the County between $1.5 and $2.3 million.

         We appointed attorney W. Tobin McClamroch as Special Judge to hear the case. Each side retained counsel. Discovery ensued: multiple requests for production and interrogatories were used, and two dozen depositions were taken. Salary information was compiled. Mediation occurred but was unsuccessful in resolving the case. The parties prepared for trial and filed pretrial briefs and multi-page lists of witnesses and exhibits.

         A few days before the three-day bench trial was set to start, the parties announced they agreed to settle the dispute. At the parties' request, the trial was vacated. The parties then negotiated the specifics of their settlement. Their Settlement Agreement and Release is not in the record, but the parties agree it includes the following paragraph:

The County will pay the reasonable legal fees and expenses incurred by the Superior Court in prosecuting the Mandate Action prior to the dismissal of the Mandate Action. In the event the parties are unable to agree to this amount, the parties agree to submit the issue to the Special Judge for a decision. Either party may seek review of that decision before the Indiana Supreme Court. The Superior Court[ ] agree[s] that the Council has no further obligation for attorney fees in this matter.

Appellants' App. Vol. II at 17.

         The Judges requested $223, 234.17 in legal fees and expenses. That amount consisted of 237.2 billed hours of attorney Jeffrey C. McDermott at $430/hr.; 309.4 billed hours of attorney William J. Barkimer at $245/hr.; 30.4 billed hours of attorney Matthew C. Branic at $245/hr.; 133.6 billed hours of a paralegal at $195/hr.; and expenses totaling $11, 935.17. The Council opposed the Judges' request as excessive.

         The parties submitted their dispute over fees and expenses to the Special Judge by filing briefs and documentary evidence. In his Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order, the Special Judge concluded the Judges' expenses and attorneys' time entries were all reasonable in light of the case's complexity. He found, however, that the Judges should recover no more than the reasonable and customary hourly rate for an attorney in Lake County, and so he limited the hourly rate to $240/hr. for each of the Judges' attorneys. Id. at 18-19. He accordingly ordered the Council to pay the Judges $176, 467.17 for their fees and expenses.

         Review has not been waived under T.R. 60.5(B). Therefore, we address the Council's ...


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