Attorney Fees Reduced in General Assistance Lawsuit

Photo from novato.patch.com

Photo from novato.patch.com

Litigation concerning the county’s General Assistance (GA) program filed by the Public Interest Law Project concluded with a judge’s reduction of requested attorney fees from $2.4 million to $423,573, or by 83 percent.

In his announcement on March 10, Marin Superior Court Judge Paul Haakenson explained why he reduced the attorney fees claim, finding that the petitioners significantly overbilled their efforts in the case.

The petitioners asked the court for $2,443,358 in attorney’s fees, but Haakenson only awarded $423,573.65 in his March 7 ruling. Additional costs of $11,675 were awarded after being reduced from the requested $23,350.75.

The GA program, which provides temporary monthly loans to qualified adults with no dependent children, is regarded as one of the best in the state of California. Marin ranks among the top 25 percent of counties in the amount of general assistance aid distributed and the amount of cash given directly to clients.

“We’re pleased with the judge’s expert analysis and findings,” said Heather Ravani, Assistant Director of the County’s Health and Human Services Department, which oversees the GA program. “We agreed when he said the sheer number of hours spent in this litigation by the petitioners was exorbitant, unnecessary and qualified as profound overbilling.”

In June 2013, the County reached a settlement with the Oakland-based law project, which provides legal assistance to lower-income clients. The allegations pertained to client eligibility and program process issues.

Per the agreement terms, the GA program guidelines and process were refined. Two clients represented by the litigants received settlements of approximately $4,600 each.

The mission of the state-mandated GA program is to provide services to enhance a client’s ability to become self-sufficient. The county offers workshops at the Marin Employment Connection geared toward professional development and support with the job-seeking process.

Applicants can receive face-to-face interaction with staff on a daily basis and, on average, wait only five days for an intake appointment.

Marin provides a maximum general assistance grant of $387 per individual per month, the highest grant amount in California.

Marin is one of the only Bay Area counties that does not deduct a monthly health care payment or use vouchers in place of a check. The program also ranks well on the amount of assistance distributed as a percent of the population and on the amount of people in poverty receiving GA funds.

 

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