Wrangling continues over legal fees in the Department of Human Services foster care system litigation. It's clear the plaintiffs will get a substantial amount of money for a case that never went to trial.
The plaintiffs, led by an out-of-state advocacy group, may have the better legal case for high fee recovery, but state officials have the better case for the children.
Whether Children's Rights gets the $9.5 million in fees it requested or the $7.03 million a federal magistrate says is fair, the money will be paid by taxpayers and could go instead to actually taking care of children. For Children's Rights, this isn't about fees or the care of children. It's about leverage. The higher the fee award here, the stronger the case that Children's Rights can make elsewhere: Settle with us quickly or you will not only lose the case but be forced to fund our New York lifestyle.
Second-guessing over whether the DHS should have settled the suit sooner is moot. Under former DHS Director Howard Hendrick, the agency defended its practices and mounted a vigorous legal defense. This meant incurring fees for that defense as well as exposing taxpayers to liability for the plaintiffs' legal fees.
Children's Right is essentially seeking fees based on New York rates, but the case was litigated in Oklahoma. U.S. Magistrate Frank McCarthy recommends the state pay most but not all of the fees being sought. DHS Director Ed Lake, who succeeded Hendrick after the case was settled, said, “It would be a far better use of the state's resources” to direct money that would go to fees to actual services.
Children's Rights is entitled to recover fees for the case. It could be more reasonable in its request. But that would remove the aforementioned leverage. As we noted previously, Children's Rights is cheapening its image even as it inflates its worth.