Sunday, December 1, 2013
I write today to criticize Mark O’Mara and Don West for charging a $2.5 Million fee for representing George Zimmerman. I believe O’Mara’s announcement after the trial ended regarding the fee probably violates the fee agreement that he reached with Zimmerman before officially entering the case. Pursuant to that agreement, he agreed to represent Zimmerman pro bono. In other words, he agreed not to charge a fee.
A fee agreement is an enforceable contract under the laws of the State of Florida and I believe Zimmerman would have a good chance to prevail, if he challenges the fee on the ground that it violates the fee agreement.
Costs are a separate matter. Clients are always responsible for paying the costs win, lose or draw.
Costs typically include court reporter fees for deposition transcripts, expert witness fees and investigation fees to name a few.
I recall O’Mara announced several weeks after trial that, as the prevailing party in a self-defense case, he had submitted a cost bill for $200,000 to the State of Florida. I do not know if the State has paid some or all of the creditors, but I think it will pay most, if not all of the costs.
Lawyers generally do not charge their clients by the hour in criminal cases, unless they are representing a rich client or a corporation. Instead, they charge a non-refundable retainer up front that will compensate the lawyer for the time spent working on the case, assuming it does not go to trial. If the case is unlikely to be resolved without a trial, the lawyer will request an additional non-refundable fee to cover the time spent trying the case.
I am going to guess that O’Mara and West did not think about an hourly fee until they started filing motions for sanctions and terms against the prosecution for various alleged discovery violations. Since they were seeking compensation for the additional time they had to work on the case due to the alleged misconduct, they had to come up with the total number of hours for the extra work and multiply it by an hourly amount.
Voila! O’Mara claimed a rate of $400/hour and West claimed $350/hour.
Most criminal defense lawyers base their non-refundable retainers on an estimate of the time they will devote to the case at an hourly rate of compensation.
Of course, I do not believe Zimmerman will ever pay any portion of the $2.5 Million. I do not believe the civil suit against NBC will be successful.