Judge in profiling case against Arizona sheriff mulls $6.7 million request for legal fees

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PHOENIX — A federal judge who ruled that the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office racially profiled Latinos in its patrols is considering whether to award the winning lawyers in the case $6.7 million to cover their legal fees and expenses.

U.S. District Judge Murray Snow heard arguments Tuesday from lawyers on both sides over legal fees and posed skeptical questions about the large size for the victorious legal team. The judge also asked whether it was necessarily to pay junior attorneys to question witnesses at trial when a senior lawyer could make the same inquiries.

The attorneys who pressed the case against Arpaio's office had argued that the fee request was reasonable given that they spent nearly six years litigating the case, including trial preparation, the trial itself, appeals and post-verdict proceedings. They argued the judge should award the fees because they prevailed in the lawsuit.

James Williams, an attorney representing the sheriff's office, argued that opposing attorneys were applying hourly rates that were too generous and asked the judge to award a drastically reduced amount to the winning lawyers.

It's not known when the judge will issue his ruling on the fees.

Fifteen months ago, Snow ruled the sheriff's office systematically racially profiled Latinos in its immigration and regular traffic patrols. Arpaio vigorously denies that his officers have profiled people and is appealing the ruling.

If Snow awards fees to the winning legal team, county taxpayers will have to foot the bill. Aside from the money sought by the winning attorneys, the county has already paid $1.6 million to defend the sheriff's office in the case, according to figures released earlier this year.

A law firm with offices in northern California teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union to press the case in court. The ACLU said it had to go out of state to find a law firm with the necessary litigation expertise and legal resources after two firms in Arizona ended their involvement in the case and no other local firms were willing to take it up.

Stan Young, a private-practice lawyer from northern California who led the victorious legal team, cited an appeals court decision that held, in cases where local lawyers couldn't be found, the rates from the out-of-area lawyer's service area apply.

Williams urged the judge to apply more modest hourly rates that Arizona lawyers typically get.

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