Lawyer receives $ 1 in attorney fees, corresponding jury prize in case of torn pen
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Civil rights attorney Jeffrey Rothman’s lawsuit against New York City and two police officers was not a total loss.
In a ruling filed Nov. 30, U.S. Chief Justice Colleen McMahon of the Southern District of New York awarded Rothman $ 1 in attorney fees, matching the $ 1 reward he had. received from a jury in a lawsuit resulting from rude treatment and a pen torn off. . He received $ 862 in additional fees.
The New York Post and the New York Daily News have coverage.
“Once upon a time,” McMahon wrote, “we urged people not to make too many real but trivial grievances by saying, ‘Don’t make it a federal case. This trial was a violation of this broad principle. “
Rothman had continued his December 2018 visit to police headquarters for the purpose of serving a trial, in McMahon’s opinion. The service receiving office was closed and two officers refused to accept service. An officer snatched Rothman’s pen away as Rothman attempted to write down the officer’s name and shield number. The other officer threw the legal papers at Rothman, according to Rothman’s version of events.
A review by the Civilian Complaints Commission issued a “command training instruction” to the pen seizure officer and concluded that the complaint about the discarded papers was unfounded.
Rothman filed a federal complaint for alleged constitutional violations, as well as assault, battery and personal injury, conversion of property, unreasonable detention and excessive force.
The case went to a jury, which awarded Rothman $ 1 for the snatching, the amount of nominal damages he claimed in his final argument. He had claimed that the case was about the “principle” and not the “main one,” McMahon said.
But Rothman’s claim for $ 44,800 in legal fees incurred during the trial and $ 862 in costs proves the case “is not really about ‘principle’ but ‘principal’,” McMahon wrote.
McMahon said the compensation Rothman requested was unreasonable.
While the verdict against the pen officer may be personally significant for Rothman, “it is not a verdict likely to be of great significance to the general public,” McMahon wrote.
“The facts of this case which gave rise to the verdict – a pen seized by a police officer in a fit of spite, then returned in a few moments to its rightful owner – are just too trivial. Rothman’s verdict is entirely symbolic and therefore does not support the award of the attorney fees he seeks. “
Rothman told the New York Daily News that he respectfully disagrees with the decision.
“If they were ready to indulge in this kind of abuse of power towards a lawyer in the middle of the police headquarters, what would they do to someone who did not have the resources that I did?” ” he said. “If a policeman in the courtroom snatched the pen from the judge’s hands, would she consider it so trivial?”