A Polk County district court judge has awarded the attorneys in a lawsuit against the City of Des Moines for charging improper franchise fees $7-million — half of what they had asked to receive. One of the attorneys, Brad Schroeder, says they are pleased with the ruling, especially the credit the judge gave them for their work. “He went out of his way in his ruling to say the he commended us, ‘the work of class counsel has been exemplary he said, they have met every challenge posed by the city during the pendency of this case,'” Schroeder says.
Schroeder and his firm represented a Des Moines woman who sued the city in 2004 saying the a portion of the franchise fee the city charged to customers of MidAmerican Energy between 2004 and 2009 was an illegal tax.
Schroeder says the amount of the fees awarded his firm is not as important as the fact that the City of Des Moines could have avoided the legal costs if they had stopped what they were doing when the ruling was first issued the fees were illegal. “The city had argued that there was no benefit to the citizens of Des Moines — that in essence they would be taking from one pocket and putting it in another with this ruling,” Schroeder says. “The judge vehemently disagreed with that saying ‘look if that’s the way you feel, you are missing the big picture here’.” Schroeder says.
He read from the judge’s ruling — saying it summed up that big picture and the impact on the state. “Not only was there a financial benefit to the class, but a non-financial benefit that the class received that should be categorized as insignificant. This case should send a message to all cities that no matter how well intentioned their conduct for the purpose for which the money taken from its residents is used to benefit its residents, cities in this state must adhere to the rule of law,” Schroeder says.
The judge also awarded around $590,000 to the attorneys for costs and expenses. The money awarded to the attorneys will come out of the $40-million the judge ordered the city to refund to customers. City attorney Jeff Lester says the ruling is too much, but it’s much closer to a fair and equitable fee.
See the full ruling here: Des Moines attorney fees PDF