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Lawyers in Andrew Brown Jr case seeking $1.2 million in fees

Lawyers for Andrew Brown Jr's, along with a North Carolina reverend and activist, gather around a table in a hotel.
Peyton Sickles
Andrew Brown Jr.'s legal team, along with Rev. Greg Drumwright from Greensboro (right), share a moment of laughter amid a very long series of days, in April 2021.

Attorneys who represented the estate of Andrew Brown Jr. say they are entitled to $1.2 million of the $3 million settlement reached with Pasquotank County.

Last year, Brown was shot and killed by Pasquotank Sheriff's deputies while they carried out drug-related search and arrest warrants. District Attorney Andrew Womble deemed the shooting justified, saying Brown drove his car in the direction of deputies, endangering them. A portion of the community disagreed, arguing Brown was trying to flee.

Brown's survivors include four minor children. His estate, led by his aunt Lillie Brown Clark, filed a wrongful death lawsuit seeking $30 million. The case was settled last month for $3 million.

Before taking the case, attorneys representing Brown Clark and the estate reached a retainer agreement for 40% of any payout, and so they are filing for $1.2 million, or 40% of the $3 million settlement. Lawyers are also seeking $43,000 in expenses.

That leaves about $1.17 million for the four minor children and $580,000 for the two adult children of Brown. Because minor children are involved in the settlement, a judge must approve the attorney's fees.

In a court filing, the attorneys say they worked a combined 1,610 hours on the case. That comes out to an average of $745 per hour of work.

Breakdown of hours worked on the case:

  • Law Offices of Harry M. Daniels: 680 hours
  • Chance Lynch: 180 hours
  • Chantel Lassiter: 350 hours
  • Strom Law Firm (Bakari Sellers): 400 hours

Attorney's fees in cases like this can range. Nonprofit attorneys might charge less, but also qualify for grants to cover various administrative or office costs. Attorneys also sometimes take cases with small or no payouts and are not reimbursed for their costs. In other agreements, an attorney might charge a 33% contingency fee, with escalators if the case goes to trial or to appeal. A 40% fee is on the higher side of average but within the normal range.

In addition to the retainer, the attorneys argue the civil rights case "presented complicated issues," made difficult when DA Andrew Womble declared the shooting justified. "Plaintiff’s counsel would have to overcome the proverbial mountain known as qualified immunity," they wrote.

The lawyers point out that the insurance policy which covered Pasquotank County had a $2 million limit, but they were able to get another $1 million for the family, "an additional amount that Pasquotank County was under no obligation to pay," they wrote.

Attorneys representing the county were asked by the judge to submit their thoughts. Although it's ultimately up to the judge to rule on attorney's fees, Pasquotank County's attorneys submitted reasons why $1.2 million would be unreasonable. "Contrary to the plaintiff's representations, this was not a novel, complex, or difficult case, but a straight-forward one involving whether the individual defendant officers used excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment and state law. Such cases are filed in federal courts regularly," they wrote.

U.S. Magistrate Judge James Gates is overseeing the case.

Jason deBruyn is the WUNC health reporter, a beat he took in 2020. He has been in the WUNC newsroom since 2016.
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