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Call it a pro bono bonanza. Crosby, Heafey, Roach & May, the Oakland, Calif., firm that took on the unappealing task of representing a convicted drug dealer in a civil rights dispute with Sonoma County authorities, scored a cool million in attorney fees recently. Partner Jo Saxe Levy headed up the case on behalf of Kenneth Oberfelder, who was shot in the back during a 1996 arrest that went awry. A federal jury last year awarded Oberfelder $100,000. Two weeks ago, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel — noting the risk of representing an unsympathetic figure pro bono — granted Crosby Heafey $1,053,950 in fees and costs. “In order to try this case effectively, counsel was required to independently undertake a time-consuming and expensive investigation even though there was no guarantee of reimbursement for those services,” Patel wrote. Footing the bill will be Sonoma County, which is still fighting a second issue in the bifurcated case — whether the county’s law enforcement policies and procedures contributed to the shooting. Lawyers for the county argued that the fee request was unreasonable, but by and large Patel sided with Crosby Heafey. “There is no requirement of proportionality of fees sought to verdict, though the court, in its discretion, may consider plaintiff’s success in determining reasonableness of fees,” Patel wrote. Crosby Heafey plowed more than 1,300 hours into the case, resulting in a request for more than $638,000 in fees. Patel granted a multiplier of 1.5, giving Crosby Heafey a windfall for its efforts exceeding $300,000. “So far it’s worked out well, and it’s hopefully a good example for other large firms,” Levy said. Oberfelder’s was one of several officer-involved shootings that led to criticism of the Sonoma County sheriff’s department and a critical report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The Sonoma County district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s office investigated Oberfelder’s shooting and found no evidence of wrongdoing. The county has appealed the jury’s verdict, and Levy said she’s been told it will also appeal the fee award. She added that she initially expected the county to settle the case. Instead, it fought the allegations of wrongdoing — so far costing Sonoma County taxpayers more than $1.1 million. “To me, that is really the outrage,” Levy said. The county’s attorney, Michael Senneff of Santa Rosa’s Senneff, Freeman & Bluestone, did not return a phone call Monday seeking comment. The case is Oberfelder v. City of Petaluma, 98-1470, although the city is no longer a party to the suit.

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