Judge Orders MPS to pay legal fees
FRIDAY, Aug. 15, 2008
By Dani McClain
Milwaukee Public Schools must pay nearly $500,000 to the legal staff that represented plaintiffs in a class-action suit over how the district serves students with special needs, a federal judge ordered today.
Today’s order follows on a federal ruling in June that MPS must do more for special-needs students, including assessments for children who might need services and interventions for students who have a high number of suspensions and for those who have failed a grade.
Staff at Disability Rights Wisconsin sought $1.3 million in attorneys’ fees and costs incurred by the organization through the end of September 2007. The state Department of Public Instruction was initially a co-defendant along with MPS but was dismissed from the case after it settled with the organization in April.
DPI agreed to pay $475,000 in attorneys’ fees as part of the settlement. The court has now ordered that MPS pay $459,124.
In petitioning the court, the group argued that its staff of attorneys, paralegals and law clerks had put in roughly 7,400 hours of work on the case over more than six years.
The settlement with DPI included the appointment of an outside authority, paid by DPI, to monitor MPS’s compliance with state and federal special education law and establish standards for MPS.
MPS did not enter into the agreement and issued a statement calling DPI’s decision “a disappointment” because of the tax increase district officials say will result for local taxpayers.
Still ahead is a trial in November on issues such as whether MPS might be required to provide compensatory damages to anyone who was denied adequate special education in 2000, the starting point for the lawsuit.