Friday, January 28, 2005

Iowa Supreme Court Opinions

have been posted today.

State v. Griffin underscores the premise outlined earlier in State v. Myers: "A search incident to lawful arrest is legal even if the arresting officer had an ulterior motive for the arrest or had no independent probable cause to conduct the search."

GreatAmerica Leasing Corp. v. Cool Comfort Air Conditioning, Inc. illustrates that indigent defense counsel aren't paid crap in Iowa.


GreatAmerica Leasing Corporation sued Cool Comfort Air Conditioning and Refrigeration, Inc., after Cool Comfort breached a lease for a telephone system. GreatAmerica was partially successful in the suit and obtained a judgment against Cool Comfort for a little less than $17,000. . . . Pursuant to a fee-shifting clause in the parties’ written contract, GreatAmerica asked the district court to require Cool Comfort to reimburse it approximately $35,000 for attorney fees it had expended in the suit. This request included about $5000 in litigation expenses for paralegal work. In support of its motion, GreatAmerica attached a copy of a bill it had received from its law firm. The bill indicated the firm had charged GreatAmerica $80 per hour for paralegal work.


The trial court reduced the paralegal fees to $50 per hour, because it was "troubled that regular, licensed attorneys defending felony defendants in criminal cases in Iowa are paid only $50 an hour for what can be more complex litigation [that requires] a license to practice law with substantial trial ability and experience. In this court’s view, a paralegal fee assessed against another party should not exceed what the State of Iowa pays for indigent defense."


"Although there is a blush of fairness in the district court’s logic that paralegals should not earn more than attorneys, this analysis ignores the fact that the markets for criminal defense attorneys and paralegals in civil litigation are different. To the extent the district court adopted a per se rule capping all pay for paralegals at $50 per hour, the court abused its discretion. Iowa Code section 625.22 contains no such requirement, and to the extent the district court invented one its ruling was based on untenable grounds. Such a fixed policy is the antithesis of discretionary decision-making. . . . The appropriate remedy is to reverse and remand for “a fresh consideration” of a reasonable attorney fee. . . . On remand, the court shall look at the whole picture and determine a reasonable amount for GreatAmerica’s litigation expenses.

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