Last week, Justice Joyce A. Wheeler of Maine's Androscoggin Superior Court issued an excellent decision awarding attorney fees in Maine Human Rights Commission v. Saddleback, Inc., Case No. CV-06-219 (Dec. 17, 2009, Order Regarding Attorneys Fees). The case arose when electrician Robert Duggan raised concerns about the ski resorts use of unlicensed electricians who improperly installed a power line. Read more about his case in my blog entry from last July. Last June, Duggan prevailed in a jury trial on his statutory whistleblower claim, but not on his tort claims. In the present order, Justice Wheeler held that the two claims were "so interrelated that attempts to allocate hours between claims may be unwarranted." She also noted that the defendants' conduct produced "an indivisible injury" and the defendants would be jointly and severally liable for the attorney fees. After Saddleback complained that Duggan's attorney spent too much time conferring with the lawyer for the Human Rights Commission, Justice Wheeler found that, "these conferences led to a division of work so as to avoid duplication." She also found that the attorney's time records adequately described the time spent. Duggan's attorney, Rebecca Webber, requested $79,777, Justice Wheeler awarded judgment for all of it.
The decision should encourage attorneys to take whistleblower cases that rely on attorney fee awards provided by statute. Too many whistleblowers have difficulty getting attorneys to take their cases, in part because too many judges have looked for ways to cut attorney fee awards. Justice Wheeler understood the personal risk attorney Webber took on by accepting the case of a fired electrician, and her decision advances the cause of all whistleblowers who need dedicated legal representation to vindicate their rights and the public's safety.