Who should pay what? TSC, Tercero make case for attorney fees - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Who should pay what? TSC, Tercero make case for attorney fees

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Posted: Thursday, December 6, 2018 10:30 pm

Now that a jury determined Texas Southmost College owes its former president $13.1 million in damages after trustees fired her during a sham hearing, both parties are tangling over attorney fees.

On Nov. 8, after a four-day trial, a federal jury awarded Lily Tercero $674.878.66 for lost earnings from her contract and $12.5 million for diminished earning capacity and mental anguish.

Tercero sued the college after it fired her in September 2016 for deliberately and recklessly failing to obtain windstorm insurance with board approval in compliance with state law; for allowing TSC checks to be stamped with signatures of people who were no longer trustees; for failing to timely search and fill the position of vice president for finance and administration; for failing to inform the board of the ailing nursing program and its pending suspension; for refusing a board member’s request that he personally sign and review checks in the amount of $10,000 or more and for not complying with a request for information sought by another member.

Three months prior to her termination, the board renewed her contract. However, elections changed the majority and makeup of the board in May, after her contract was renewed.

In court documents, Tercero’s attorney Richard A. Illmer tells U.S. District Judge Fernando Rodriguez Jr., who will rule on attorney fees, that Tercero has incurred $178,306.50 in reasonable and necessary attorney fees as of Nov. 19.

According to Illmer, the fees are reasonable and consistent with rates charged in Texas.

At the outset of the litigation, Illmer charged Tercero $500 per hour instead of his standard $550 per hour, but when it became clear the case would take more time, Illmer said he reduced his rate to $395 per hour, court documents indicate.

However, Illmer is also asking for court fees for the federal appeals court, should TSC appeal.

In all, from post-verdict motions to an appeal to the 5 th Circuit Court of Appeals all the way up to oral argument before the Supreme Court — should that happen — Illmer requested $270,000.

In a statement after the verdict, TSC said it was weighing its options and hasn’t indicated whether it will appeal yet, but court records show that TSC’s attorney has requested the trial transcripts, which could indicate the college is preparing an appeal.

TSC, in court documents, said Illmer’s request for attorney fees is excessive and exceeds fees customarily charged locally in the Southern District of Texas.

According to TSC, the reasonable market rate in Brownsville is between $170 and $200 per hour. In McAllen, the determined rate for federal employment suits involving due process claims against government entities is $200, according to the college.

TSC is also opposed to rates Illmer is charging for two paralegals — $225 and $215 per hour. The college believes the two paralegals should be paid between $75 and $90 per hour.

Court motions filed by TSC also show that it asserts that fees associated with appellate costs are speculative and asks that they be denied.

The college is also asking to be awarded attorney fees because it partly prevailed in its motion for summary judgment earlier this year when the individual trustees and several of Tercero’s claims were dropped from the lawsuit in a ruling by U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen.

TSC is asking for a total of $43,993.50 in fees and costs. Attorneys representing TSC charged $170 per hour and billed the college for 237.1 hours over 17 months.

Tercero is opposed.

Separately, a Texas Public Information Act request submitted to TSC revealed that the college spent $62,509.67 defending itself against the lawsuit brought by Tercero.

mreagan@brownsvilleherald.com

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