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Yakima County ordered to pay nearly $272,000 in voting rights case, lower than $2M requested

UPDATED: Tue., Dec. 28, 2021

By Phil Ferolito Yakima Herald-Republic

Yakima County will pay more than $271,000 in legal fees and other costs in a settlement over alleged Voting Rights Act violations, a judge ruled last week.

That’s a fraction of the nearly $2.1 million sought by the plaintiffs – Seattle-based immigrant rights group OneAmerica and Campaign Legal Center based in Chicago.

On Dec. 22, Kittitas County Superior Court Judge Candace Hooper ruled that amount was unreasonable and reduced attorney hours claimed by more than 60% and denied other expenses, including $3,480.90 in bar admission fees for seven attorneys so they could practice law in Washington state.

In the ruling, Hooper said awarding fees encourages election systems be corrected, but they “should not hamstring or injure the very representative government which the statute was meant to improve, or present local jurisdictions with overwhelming debts and the now properly representative officials with an impossible financial burden from the start of their terms.”

OneAmerica filed the lawsuit in July 2020 in Kittitas County Superior Court, alleging Yakima County’s voting system disenfranchises Latino voters.

A settlement was reached in late August that requires new commission district boundaries, eliminates at-large candidates and forces the election of all three commission seats in 2022.

The commissioners are Amanda McKinney, District 1; Ron Anderson, District 2; and LaDon Linde, District 3.

OneAmerica sought $1,969,882 for 3,927.5 hours claimed by eight attorneys working on the case and another $105,784 in other costs including expert witnesses, the ruling said.

Yakima County argued it should only have to pay $109,398 in attorney fees and $558.86 in costs for a total of $109,956.86.

Hooper cut 28.3 hours claimed by a paralegal as attorney fees, saying it wasn’t a cost allowed by state law.

Hooper took issue with the number of hours claimed, saying the 3,927.5 hours amounted to two attorneys working nearly 40 hours a week for a year.

A team of seven attorneys and the paralegal worked on the case that was settled in 13 months without going to trial.

“Despite plaintiffs’ attempts to reduce duplicative hours, this court finds the number of hours sought by plaintiffs are simply not reasonable and do represent multiple attorneys handling functions that could be handled by one attorney,” Hooper said in her ruling.

Attorney hours were reduced to 1,444.76, and hourly rates were based on what attorneys earn in Yakima County and their level of experience, which amounted to $226,011.20 in attorney fees.

Hooper granted $44,542.50 in expert witness fees and an additional $748.88 in other costs for a total award of $271,302.58.

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