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Miami wins fight over attorneys fees in homeless Pottinger settlement


The city of Miami does not owe close to $500,000 to a half-dozen attorneys who defended a class-action settlement protecting the rights of the homeless, according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th circuit.

The attorneys say they spent nearly 900 combined hours fending off substantial changes to Miami's landmark Pottinger settlement in 2013 and 2014. The settlement, first created in 1998 after Miami was found by a judge to have systematically pushed the destitute out of downtown, gave the homeless special privileges for "life-sustaining" behavior, such as urinating on the street or bathing in public.

When the city moved to weaken the agreement, the American Civil Liberties Union and a team of attorneys fought back on behalf of the homeless. They ultimately agreed to some notable changes. But they couldn't agree on whether the city should pay a $476,000 bill for the work of six attorneys.

Last year, a federal judge ruled that the city did not owe attorneys fees due to unaltered stipulations in the Pottinger settlement that limited the city's liability for future attorney's fees. An 11th circuit judicial panel agreed Tuesday.

"We recognize that, at some level, this result may not “feel” right," the panel's opinion stated. "Although it is important to compensate attorneys who help their clients prevail (or, as is the case here, keep their hard-won gains) in civil rights cases, it is just as important to hold parties to the terms of the bargains they strike..."