HOUSING is worth nearly 400 percent more in Manhattan than it is in Oklahoma City. Heating and cooling a home costs about 70 percent more. New Yorkers have to make more to live comfortably.
New York-based Children's Rights, the successful plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging Oklahoma's foster care system, wants New York legal fees for an Oklahoma case. New York legal fees are higher than Oklahoma legal fees.
Children's Rights sued the Department of Human Services on behalf of Oklahoma foster children, alleging that DHS policies harmed children or left them at risk of being harmed. Sought by Children's Rights is $9.5 million in legal fees for a case that never went to trial. That $9.5 million would buy a lot more in Oklahoma than it would in New York.
If Children's Rights prevails, $9.5 million will be transferred from the wallets of Oklahoma taxpayers and the agency charged with running the foster care system. The more Children's Rights gets in fees, the less will be available for a system serving some of the state's neediest citizens.
The Department of Human Services is fighting the fee request. We noted before that the claim amounts to $11.67 per New York minute, based on $700 an hour and the number of hours Children's Rights says it put into the case, which was settled out of court in January.
Attorneys representing the plaintiff have a right to recover fees from a case they won. The question is how much they should get. This question will ultimately be determined by a court, which may or may not take into account the relative cost of living in Oklahoma vs. New York.
Remember, this case was litigated in Oklahoma, not Manhattan. Shouldn't Oklahoma rates apply? DHS says an appropriate amount would be between $2.6 million and $3.7 million. This would be on top of the cost of defending the case, an amount that could surpass $9 million.
The fee total relates in part to how long DHS fought the lawsuit before settling — nearly four years. It's reasonable for Children's Rights to argue that taxpayers would have saved millions of dollars had the case not lingered for so long. But $700 an hour isn't reasonable. It would hurt the very system that Children's Rights claims was in dire of need of reform.
DHS settled the lawsuit instead of demanding a trial. Children's Rights should do some settling of its own. It should back away from the exorbitant demand, which gives the impression that this is less about reforming the system and more about enriching attorneys. What it's really about is sending a message to welfare agencies in other states targeted for similar lawsuits down the road. The more Children's Rights gets here, the more it can leverage deals elsewhere: Settle quickly or it will cost taxpayers millions of dollars in fees!
This is a smarmy way to end a sad case. With its excessive demand for fees, Children's Rights is cheapening its image even as it inflates its worth.