BENTON – For a $2,500 jury verdict against a policeman, Patrick Murphy of Marion and Shari Rohde of Carbondale seek $155,679 in fees at the U.S. district court where Murphy presided as judge for 15 years.
Murphy would charge his usual hourly rate, $500, and Rohde would charge $400 for last year and $500 for this year.
They represent Terry Ditterline of Mounds, who alleged that officer Dustin Turska violated his rights with excessive force.
Jurors awarded $500 in compensatory damages and $2,000 in punitive damages.
They rejected Ditterline’s claim against officer Lyle Womack.
They also rejected claims that Ditterline’s wife and sons brought against Turska, Womack, and officer Kitisha Ray.
Murphy moved for fees 10 days after trial, under a provision of civil rights law allowing a prevailing party to apply for such an award.
“Because Ditterline was awarded both compensatory and punitive damages by the jury, he is clearly the prevailing party,” Murphy wrote.
He wrote that the size of the award didn’t equate to the gravity of the matter.
“Any victory in a case claiming excessive force by police officers in violation of a person’s Fourth Amendment rights is a matter of considerable public interest,” he wrote.
“Obtaining a verdict against a police officer is a difficult and tedious task, one few attorneys will take on with only a possibility of future compensation.
“Also, undesirability of a case is a consideration for the court in deciding what attorneys’ fees should be awarded.
“Without such an award, no attorney is likely to represent plaintiffs whose constitutional rights were violated but where the damages may be relatively small and the time and resources of the attorneys it takes to vindicate these violations very costly.
“If reasonable fees are not awarded in such cases, police officers may be less likely to ensure they do not abuse their authority and use excessive force, as the jury found officer Turska did in this case.”
Murphy did not break down the fees, but their invoices indicate Rohde would collect about three fourths of the total.
Magistrate Judge Stephen Williams has set a June 13 deadline for Mounds to respond to Murphy’s motion.
Williams has set a settlement conference about fees on July 5.
Terry Ditterline, wife Delana, and sons Bryan and Brandon sued the chief of Mounds police, the Pulaski County sheriff, and the officers in 2015.
The family moved for appointment of counsel, and Senior District Judge Phil Gilbert denied it.
The Ditterlines then retained Rohde.
Last December, Gilbert denied a summary judgment motion from Mounds.
Gilbert wrote that a reasonable jury could find that the defendants engaged in excessive force and that the family posed no threat and didn’t resist arrest.
He wrote that a reasonable jury could also believe the defense’s illustration of an aggressive family posing a serious threat and warranting more severe use of force.
“Or a reasonable jury could find that the story of excessive force as told by the Ditterlines did not happen at all,” Gilbert wrote.
Murphy entered an appearance for the Ditterlines the next week.
In the meantime, Turska has moved for a new trial.
Murphy presided in district court from 1998 to 2013.
He stays about as busy as any lawyer in the district.
On May 25, he and assistant U.S. attorney Suzanne Garrison settled a malpractice suit from the Veterans Administration hospital in Marion.
On May 29, he entered an appearance in a job discrimination suit from a Save-a-Lot store in Carbondale. Rohde had entered an appearance in the suit a week earlier for a plaintiff who had sustained it for a year without counsel.
Williams plans a settlement conference on June 15, for Murphy’s claim that Continental Tires retaliated against a worker for pursuing worker’s compensation.