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When Linda Kenney, Renee Steinhagen and the New York law firm of Cochran, Neufeld & Scheck settled a 9-year-old racial discrimination suit against the state of New Jersey, they were set to divide a $1 million fee for their efforts. But their champagne corks had barely finished popping when they learned their $1 million pie would have to be sliced a bit thinner. They had neglected to cut in Lowenstein Sandler, the Roseland, N.J., firm that had started the case and worked gratis on it for over three years. The suit, brought on behalf of 13 state troopers who claimed that their bosses retaliated against them after they complained about racial profiling on the New Jersey Turnpike, was settled in June for $4 million, plus attorney fees. Lowenstein Sandler learned of the size of the fee along with the rest of the state on July 1, when Law Division director Douglas Wolfson, told the Star-Ledger it would amount to an additional $1 million. “My first reaction was one of surprise,” says Steinhagen, executive director of the New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center in Newark, N.J. “They saw the result in the paper.” On July 29, Mercer County Superior Court Judge Maria Sypek received a letter from Lowenstein Sandler counsel Patrick Whalen seeking “the opportunity to also file a certification to be considered in the fee application process.” Lowenstein represented the plaintiffs for three or four years, says Whalen. “We filed the complaint, we handled discovery, we engaged in mediation efforts.” But the firm’s involvement ended when a lawyer who had previously worked in the attorney general’s office joined the firm. “A surprise came along and we got disqualified,” he says. The note also drew a quick response from Red Bank, N.J.’s Kenney, who told the judge that Lowenstein had informed the plaintiffs it was “handling the matter on a pro bono basis with respect to all legal fees.” Kenney also sent the judge a copy of a 1999 memo by Lowenstein partner David Harris, telling the plaintiffs, “This will confirm that this firm is handling your case on a pro bono basis.” “I understand their feelings about it,” Steinhagen says, “It’s a civil rights case, and if you prevail you’re entitled to a fee.” Lowenstein will indeed be getting a fee. After some hasty talks, the plaintiffs’ lawyers and the state agreed to give the Roseland firm equal portions of the fee once Sypek decides Kenney’s motion for fees. Kenney wrote to Sypek on Aug. 7 to indicate an agreement had been reached. “Therefore, it is respectfully requested that Your Honor decide the motion.” Citing the unresolved motion, none of the lawyers involved would say how much Lowenstein will receive. Wolfson was on vacation, and first deputy director Allison Accurso did not return a call for comment. “The matter is resolved,” says Kenney’s assistant.

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