Gun-rights advocates have delivered a one-two punch to the city of Chicago.
The first blow came on Jan. 6 when a federal judge ruled the city’s longtime ban on gun stores was unconstitutional.
On Thursday, the second blow landed when the judge approved $940,000 in legal fees that the city must pay to the attorneys who challenged the ban. Charles J. Cooper, one of those plaintiffs’ attorneys, charged $975 an hour for his work.
Cooper, whose law firm Cooper & Kirk is based in Washington, is also looking for a big payout from the state. He submitted a $618,000 bill for work he and other plaintiffs’ attorneys performed in a gun-rights lawsuit against Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
But Madigan is fighting the bill, calling the fees “excessive” and “inflated” and arguing that he didn’t even win the case.
The lawsuit against Chicago was filed in 2010 by an Illinois offshoot of the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The plaintiffs included three Chicago residents who own guns.
Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang agreed with the plaintiffs that the city’s ban on gun stores was unconstitutional. He gave the city until July 14 to draft regulations for gun stores. The City Council approved tough rules in late June.
On Thursday, Chang approved the plaintiffs’ attorneys request for $940,000 in legal fees and expenses, saying they and city agreed to the amount after “extensive and good-faith conferral.”
“Too often the conferral still leaves many unnecessary disputes over which the parties litigate, and the fees and costs spin into satellite litigation on their own,” Chang said. “The additional litigation becomes expensive. Not so here.”
John Holden, a spokesman for the city’s Law Department, stressed that the plaintiffs’ attorneys were seeking almost twice as much money as they will get.
“The plaintiffs’ lawyers initially presented billings totaling $1.7 million in fees for their work on the case. The City’s Law Department vigorously opposed plaintiffs’ claimed fees, and the plaintiffs ended up requesting the far lesser amount of $940,000. As expected, the court approved this greatly reduced amount,” Holden said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration chose not to fight the ruling that the gun-store ban was unconstitutional. The city didn’t want to run up even more legal bills, sources say.
But Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said he anticipates a legal challenge to the city’s new rules, which would keep gun stores out of 99.5 percent of the city.
“The ordinance is prohibitive,” he said.
Holden said the city has received one “general inquiry” about opening a new gun shop, but no formal applications. Pearson said he recently advised a man to “think carefully” about his plan to open a gun store in the city.
“If you look at the hidden costs of opening that store, I don’t know how a person could make a living selling firearms in the city of Chicago,” he said.
Pearson added that he thinks the city wasted its money fighting the gun-store lawsuit.
“I think it would be better to spend that on the educational system,” he said.
Eight plaintiffs’ attorneys, including Cooper, billed the city for about $817,000 in attorneys’ fees and another $122,000 in expenses in the gun-store case.
Cooper — who billed the city for 71 hours of work — charged the highest rate at $975 per hour. He was an assistant U.S. attorney general under President Ronald Reagan.
Chicago attorney Stephen Kolodziej — who billed 103 hours — was at the low end with a rate of $300 an hour.
Meanwhile, Cooper & Kirk is seeking legal fees in another gun-rights lawsuit filed in federal court in Downstate Franklin County near Carbondale.
In 2011, a downstate woman, Mary Shepard, and the Illinois State Rifle Association sued Madigan to keep her from enforcing state laws that prevented people from carrying concealed firearms.
Cooper & Kirk represented the woman, whose contract with the law firm said the National Rifle Association would cover her legal bills.
Last year, the Illinois General Assembly passed a law allowing citizens to carry concealed guns. The law was in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in another case.
A judge then declared Shepard’s lawsuit against Madigan “moot” because the legislature approved the concealed carry law. But the judge never officially ruled in favor of Shepard.
In court papers, Cooper said his law firm still prevailed in the Shepard lawsuit because the state approved the right to carry concealed firearms — a remedy the lawsuit sought.
But Madigan is challenging the $618,000 bill, saying Cooper’s firm didn’t win the lawsuit because a judge didn’t formally rule in Shepard’s favor. Madigan also is fighting the fees on grounds that they’re excessive and the number of hours billed was inflated.