Fremont County is balking at paying legal fees for a group of American Indians whose court challenge forced the county to abandon its system of at-large voting for commissioners. Five members of the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes won a ruling from U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson of Cheyenne in 2010 that at-large voting in the county violated the federal Voting Rights Act by diluting the Indian vote. A federal appeals court early this year rejected Fremont County’s appeal. On appeal, the county didn’t contest Johnson’s finding that at-large voting violated the law. Instead, it challenged the judge’s rejection of its proposals to remediate the violation by creating a single, Indian majority district centered on the Wind River Indian Reservation while continuing with at-large voting in the rest of the county. In rejecting the county’s plans, Johnson wrote that they “appear to be devised solely for the purpose of segregating citizens into separate voting districts on the basis of race without sufficient justification, contrary to the defendants’ assertions.”
Lawyers for the tribal members this month asked Johnson to award more than $85,000 for their work on the appeal. The plaintiffs’ 2010 request for more than $880,000 for legal work through the trial is still pending with the judge.
Fremont County filed papers last week with Johnson arguing the plaintiffs’ bills on the appeal are too high and should be reduced.
Laughlin McDonald, an Atlanta lawyer and head of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, was lead attorney for the plaintiffs. He’s billing for more than 134 hours of work on the appeal at a rate of $425 an hour, for a total of more than $57,000. The plaintiffs’ three Lander lawyers are billing $250 an hour. Jodi Darrough, deputy Fremont County attorney, filed a response with Johnson last week saying Fremont County doesn’t dispute that the plaintiffs won the case and are entitled to their legal costs and fees. However, she says they should be paid at a rate customarily charged in Wyoming courts, which she said would limit McDonald to $300 an hour while capping the local lawyers at $200. Attempts to reach Darrough for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.
Full Article: Fremont County protests fees in voting rights case.