Attorneys want $9.5 million for legal work on Oklahoma DHS lawsuit

Children's Rights, a New York-based advocacy group, asked a judge Monday for $9.5 million for attorneys' work on the lawsuit that pushed the Oklahoma Department of Human Services into reforming its child-welfare practices.
by Nolan Clay and Randy Ellis Modified: June 19, 2012 at 12:07 am •  Published: June 19, 2012
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Commissioners settled rather than risk losing at a trial and having the judge possibly order even more costly reforms. DHS is calling the improvements “The Oklahoma Pinnacle Plan.”

The plan's cost

DHS plans to hire more child-welfare workers, recruit more foster homes and phase out using shelters to care for the youngest children. Officials initially estimated DHS will need almost $100 million more in state funds a year once all the reforms are in place.

The state already has paid more than $7.6 million in legal fees and expenses to attorneys hired to represent DHS officials in the lawsuit.

The bulk of that money — almost $6.9 million — went to the law firm hired to fight the lawsuit.

Almost $700,000 more went to the attorney who represented DHS officials in the settlement negotiations.

Children's Rights has filed similar class-action lawsuits across the country, including in Texas, Kansas and Missouri.

Children's Rights contends its bill would not be nearly as high if DHS had not engaged in what it contended were “overly aggressive tactics ... motivated by patently unjustified denial of the serious, systemic problems plaguing DHS.”

DHS is expected to ask the judge to pay Children's Rights much less than it is asking.

“I believe we'll definitely question the fees,” said Richard DeVaughn, one of three DHS commissioners who voted against the settlement.

“It's about the money. It wasn't about the children,” DeVaughn said of the group's lawsuit.

“The reason they were so willing to settle at the end was we had them on the ropes.”


by Nolan Clay
Sr. Reporter
Nolan Clay was born in Oklahoma and has worked as a reporter for The Oklahoman since 1985. He covered the Oklahoma City bombing trials and witnessed bomber Tim McVeigh's execution. His investigative reports have brought down public officials,...
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by Randy Ellis
Capitol Bureau Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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