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A federal judge has ruled that Nixon Peabody charged excessive fees in a legal battle between aviation companies operating at Washington Dulles International Airport. U.S. District Judge James Cacheris of the Eastern District of Virginia determined that Nixon Peabody’s $1.57 million in fees was too high and slashed about $440,000 off that amount, awarding $1.13 million. The ruling stemmed from a court fight between Signature Flight Support Corp., Nixon Peabody’s client, and Landow Aviation. Signature, which granted Landow a sublease to develop the Dulles Jet Center for private planes, sued Landow, alleging that had it encroached on Signature’s operations there. Following a bench trial in Aug. 2009, Cacheris held that Signature had “substantially prevailed” in the case. Signature then moved against Landow for attorney fees and costs as provided for under the parties’ contract. In his July 30 decision, Cacheris found that the number of hours Nixon Peabody expended on the case demonstrated a “lack of billing judgment exercised by plaintiff’s counsel” and “overall excessiveness of plaintiff’s fee request.” The firm billed about $74,500 in pre-complaint fees. Cacheris found that the “nearly 53 full work days” the firm spent on researching, drafting and arguing for a preliminary injunction motion was “unreasonable.” He said that much of the work performed for “related declarations and post-complaint research and preparation was unnecessary and redundant.” He criticized Nixon Peabody partner Louis Dolan Jr. for performing tasks that “a more junior associate” could have done. Dolan works in the firm’s Washington office. Nixon Peabody associates Kenneth Nichols and David West also worked on the matter. Nixon Peabody did not respond to requests for comment. The judge found that the time the firm spent on drafting the complaint, which did not differ dramatically from work it had previously done in the case, was “inappropriate.” He wrote that it would be “unfair to let Landow suffer from the unreasonable billing practices committed by plaintiff’s counsel.” After determining that the fees demanded an overall reduction of 20 percent, Cacheris noted that although Nixon Peabody was responsible for securing important equitable relief for Signature, it did not recover $4.1 million that Signature had claimed in monetary damages. Accordingly, he cut another 10 percent from the fees. The judge also slashed by nearly $23,000 from the $200,000 in costs incurred by Nixon Peabody on Signature’s behalf. Most troubling to him were reimbursements that Signature sought for its own personnel and for mediators, including costs for rooms at the Westin and Hyatt hotels during trial, travel and food, car services and copy expenses.

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