Six-Figure Attorneys' Fees Award Upheld in Nominal Damages Case

Want to keep your fee of $136,687.35 in a case where you only earned $1 in damages for your client?  Then read Mahac-Watkins v. Larry Depee (CA9) (here).

Wow.  I am definitely pro-Section 1983; and definitely pro-getting paid!  How does one rack up over a hundred grand in legal fees in a wrongful death Section 1983 case?  The lawyer initially asked for nearly $700,000.


Title 42 U.S.C. 1988 - which authorizes legal fees in Section 1983 cases - exists so that competent lawyers will take on Section 1983 cases.  Victims of police misconduct are usually poor.  Members of the privileged class (like it or not, us), unfortunately, don't get beaten up or shot.  We can afford lawyers; they can't.  Thus, attorneys' fees are extremely important in civil rights cases.

Still...Are lawyers really going to stop taking Section 1983 cases if they earn less than $136,687.35?

In any event, read the case even if you don't care about legal fees.  The facts are appalling - though pretty typical.

A CHP officer shot a schizophrenic.  The CHP officer lied about why he shot the man.  If the officer's story was believed (the forensic evidence directly contradicted it), then the schizophrenic was shot after trying to hit the officer with a flash light.  To Officer Larry Depee (and CHP, which cleared him), shooting a man dead is a proportional response to a flashlight swing:

Q. Why did you believe, maybe it’s obvious, but tell the jury why did you believe he was trying to kill you?
A. That flashlight is no doubt, to me that’s a deadly weapon when you[‘re] swinging that flashlight somebody, to me it’s painfully obvious he was trying to kill me.
That's right.  Best case: Cops will kill you if you wield the incredibly dangerous MagLite.

CHP stuck behind their man, and cleared him of all wrongdoing.

Query: Does this mean that CHP officers use deadly force by swinging a flash light?  If not, why not?  After all, CHP concluded that shooting a flashlight-wielding man was appropriate.  This conclusion presupposes that a flashlight is extremely dangerous.

In any future excessive force cases involving flashlights, be sure to remind CHP about this case.



6:19 PM

I think the question is would a private citizen be able to use deadly force to defend themselves against an individual threatening them with a flashlight? My proposed test for self-defense is: did the person asserting self-defense use a level of force greater than a police officer would be be able to use to defend themselves under the circumstances.