St. Landry

Nov 22, 2011 12:02 PM by AP

'65 school suit cost payment approved

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) - A federal judge has approved a settlement that calls for the St. Landry Parish School Board to pay $800,000 to the attorney who was on the opposing side of the parish's school desegregation case for more than four decades.

Opelousas attorney Marion Overton White, who filed the St. Landry Parish desegregation lawsuit in 1965, had initially sought nearly $10 million in legal fees for his work on the case from the 1960s until it was resolved earlier this year.

The Advocate reports the initial bill was based on White's request for a $700-per-hour fee for 14,136 hours of work.

The school board fought the initial request, and the settlement for $800,000 was approved by the school board earlier this month.

The agreement was formalized Monday by U.S. District Judge Tucker Melancon.

The money will come from the normal school board budget, and the settlement calls for the payments to be made in installments, beginning with a $75,000 payment by Dec. 1, followed by a second $75,000 payment by Jan. 15 and a $150,000 payment by October.

The settlement calls for future payments of $125,000 a year for 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

White's legal fees were the final lingering issue in the school board's long-running desegregation case.

Melancon in March signed an order freeing the school system from federal oversight after it met desegregation benchmarks and pledged to continue several desegregation initiatives.

"Hopefully, it will be a better world," Melancon said Monday of the case coming to a close. "It will be really in the hands of the school board."

Most of the desegregation legal work in recent years had been handled by Justice Department attorneys, but White had been actively involved in the early years and had maintained a presence in the case.

He was legally entitled to legal fees for his work, but the issue was how much he should be paid.

The school board had questioned the amount of hours White had billed and the $700-per-hour fee, which White argued was justified because of the complexity and length of the case.

The school board had also noted that the initial request of $10 million would have sapped about 10 percent of the school board's annual budget at a time when the board is already struggling financially.

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