Battle over a 1.4 acres generates
over $680,000 in attorneys’ fees
By Tom Shean, The Virginian-Pilot - March 2, 2007
NORFOLK - Winning a high-stakes case for a client is one thing.
Getting paid for the work is something else.
After an eight-month battle over fees
it charged and time spent on the case, the Norfolk law firm
Waldo & Lyle may soon collect
nearly $300,000 for halting an effort by the Norfolk Redevelopment
and Housing Authority to take a client's property through condemnation.
Norfolk Circuit Court Judge John C. Morrison Jr. ordered the
housing authority on Feb. 13 to pay $292,928 to property owner
C and C Real Estate Inc. for its attorneys' fees and costs. The
company's 1.4-acre tract on East 22nd Street near Monticello
Avenue is the site of Downtown Used Auto Parts, an auto salvage
The authority objection to Morrison's order but said earlier
this week that it has not yet determined whether it will appeal
the court order.
If the order stands, NRHA could end up paying nearly $700,000
in legal fees over a property it sought to buy for $560,000 in
At that time, C and C contended that the property and the business
combined should be valued at more than $3 million.
The C and C Real Estate case attracted attention two years ago
when the Norfolk Circuit Court determined that the authority
exceeded its powers while seeking to condemn the property as
part of a program for upgrading the largely industrial neighborhood.
The parcel had been mentioned as a possible site for the expansion
of parking for the Mid-Atlantic Coca-Cola Bottling p lant on
Court dismissals of petitions for property condemnation have
been rare. The housing authority, however, appealed the outcome
of the C and C case to the Virginia Supreme Court, which last
June upheld the Norfolk court's decision.
The authority's board of commissioners sought to have the lower
court's decision reversed because of the precedent-setting nature
of the case, said Ed Ware, a spokesman for the authority.
Joseph Waldo, head of Waldo & Lyle,
said he was puzzled by the prolonged opposition by the housing
its resistance to payment of C and C's attorneys' fees.
By appealing the Norfolk court's decision to the state Supreme
Court, the authority "decided to take it a step further,
and that's their right," said Waldo, whose firm concentrates
on eminent-domain disputes. "But to dig in their heels over
payment of attorneys' fees sends a signal that 'we are going
to fight you, no matter what.' "
The dispute over C and C's request for attorneys' fees stands
out for the mounting cost of the condemnation case and its outcome.
Fees for both sides in the Circuit Court case, the appeal before
the high court, and C and C's application for payment of fees
have exceeded $680,000, according to court records and interviews.
Through last May, the housing authority
paid $273,540 to its Norfolk law firm, Crenshaw, Ware & Martin,
for work on the case. Since then, the authority paid another
$67,300 to the firm.
In addition, it paid the Richmond-based firm McGuire Woods $54,243
for representation in the appeal to the Supreme Court.
Virginia law allows a property owner to seek reimbursement of
its costs, including reasonable attorneys' fees, when a petition
for condemnation is dismissed or a government agency abandons
an effort to take property through condemnation.
Court battles over the payment of attorneys' fees often occur
in cases involving the denial of individuals' civil rights, said
Steve Emmert, a Virginia Beach attorney who has handled condemnation
cases. However, prolonged disputes over a property owner's application
for payment of attorneys' fees are unusual.
In its challenge to the C and C request
for reimbursement of attorney s' fees, the authority contended
that Waldo & Lyle's
attorneys inflated their bills and charged unreasonably high
hourly rates. Waldo, for example, billed $400 an hour and later
$450 for his representation of C and C.
The authority also argued that Waldo & Lyle
failed to break out its fees in sufficient detail. In addition,
contended that the firm should not be paid for the time that
its attorneys spent on certain parts of C and C's defense before
the Virginia Supreme Court.
Attorneys for the authority reviewed
Waldo & Lyle's billing
records last fall and sought to gather additional information
about the firm's legal work for C and C through the legal process
called discovery. Morrison rejected that request.
Before issuing his order for reimbursing
C and C, the judge determined in February that Waldo & Lyle's
attorneys billed C and C for some deposition-related services
He subtracted these billings from the hours that he included
in the order for reimbursement.
In addition, Morrison reduced the rates
that Waldo & Lyle
billed for work done by a younger, less experienced attorney.
It was unreasonable, Morrison said, for this attorney to charge
$250 an hour.
Morrison, however, said in a letter
to both law firms that the hourly rates charged by Waldo and
another of the firm's attorneys,
Henry E. Howell III, were reasonable. He said that the authority's
request that C and C should not be reimbursed for certain parts
of Waldo & Lyle's defense before the Virginia Supreme Court
was not appropriate.
In the explanation of his findings,
Morrison said the payment of $292,928 for attorneys' fees and
other costs was "reasonable
in light of the effort expended by Waldo & Lyle in pursuit
of such an unusual and beneficial result."
Reach Tom Shean at (757) 446-2379 or email@example.com.