Friday, June 19, 2009

No Fees For Representing Yourself

An attorney who had sued for inspection of public records and prevailed is not entitled to attorney fees for representing himself, according to a decision of the Oregon Court of Appeals:

The ordinary meaning of "attorney fee," then, is the price demanded by an attorney for services rendered to a separate client entity.  We find nothing in the text or context of ORS 192.490(3) to suggest a different meaning for that statute.  The parties do not supply a legislative history of the statute indicating that an unordinary meaning was intended. 

Our understanding of the ordinary meaning of "attorney fees" is reinforced by decisions from other jurisdictions interpreting similarly worded attorney fee provisions in public records disclosure laws.  For example, the District of Columbia's public records disclosure law provides that, "[i]f a person seeking the right to inspect or to receive a copy of a public record prevails in whole or in part in such suit, he or she may be awarded reasonable attorney fees and other costs of litigation."  DC Code ยง 1-1527(c) (1992 Repl).  In McReady v. Dept. of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs, 618 A2d 609, 612 (DC 1992), the court interpreted that statute and followed the federal rule that no fees could be awarded to a pro se litigant, citing the United States Supreme Court's holding in Kay v. Ehrler, 499 US 432, 111 S Ct 1435, 113 L Ed 2d 486 (1991) (precluding awards of fees in section 1983 cases to persons who appear pro se, whether or not they are attorneys). 

(Mike Frisch)

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