Attorneys want one-fourth of $14 million settlement of parking-surcharge lawsuit
By Susan Stabley
Attorneys in a class-action lawsuit against the City of Miami's parking surcharge will ask for more than a fourth of the settlement in fees.
The Third District Court of Appeal - and later the Florida Supreme Court - ruled in 2002 that the law creating the city's parking fee was invalid as written in 1999. A preliminary settlement establishes a $14 million pool to refund the city's 20% surcharge on parking fees collected from Sept. 1, 1999, to Sept. 30, 2002.
Attorneys will ask a circuit court to approve a $3.6 million fee payment out of the settlement pool.
Included in the settlement are provisions to pay the attorney fees for Korge & Korge in Coral Gables and Boies Schiller & Flexner in Miami before money is refunded to commuters. If the settlement receives approval from the circuit court, the attorneys' fees and expenses will be paid within 15 days.
In Florida, attorney fees can be awarded based on up to five times the hourly rate, or as a flat percentage of the settlement amount.
Attorney Thomas J. Korge said $3.6 million will probably be low on an hourly rate basis by the time all appeals and motions are exhausted and "may not be adequate."
At least one local lawyer said the fee request is excessive.
"Frankly, I think it's outrageous," said Peter Homer of Homer Bonner & Delgado, who has filed a motion to intervene in the suit.
Mr. Homer said the settlement is unfair in that some claimants will be given priority over others, referring to users who parked in county-owned lots who have been guaranteed a full refund. What is left in the settlement fund, which he estimates will be about $5 million, would be given to claimants who parked elsewhere. If the amount requested through refunds is greater than the amount left in the pool, claimants will get a percentage of their claims. If money is left over after all claims are settled, it would be returned to the city.
Mr. Homer said he wants the settlement to be restructured to have interest income included in the refund pool and to have the surcharge abolished. In his motion, he also charges a conflict of interest against the class action attorneys and asks that Patrick McGrath III of Pinecrest, who originally challenged the surcharge, be disqualified as class representative.
Mr. Homer said his firm, in the Bank of America tower at International Place on Southeast Second Street, is due about $35,000 in refunds from the parking surcharge.
Mr. Homer estimated that after taking out legal fees and other costs from the settlement amount, there would be about $10 million left for commuters to claim.
Enacted by the city to offset property taxes while Miami was having serious financial problems in the 1990s, the state law allowing the surcharge has been rewritten, and Miami's parking fee remains in effect until Oct. 1, 2004.