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Three sets of plaintiffs lawyers have been awarded a total of $120,741 in fees in a whistleblower retaliation case with a verdict of $51,229. But the Oct. 31 award is not enough, says the lawyer who won the most money. “We’re going to move for reconsideration,” says Andrew Dwyer of Newark, N.J.’s Dwyer & Dunnigan. “[The judge] just made those numbers up.” Dwyer & Dunnigan won $92,833 of the award, which included a 25 percent fee enhancement for all the lawyers. Faia & Frick of Pleasantville, N.J., was awarded $25,161; and the plaintiff — himself a lawyer — won $2,747 for the short period in which he represented himself. The case, Diego v. Whelan, roiled Atlantic City’s legal community for several months earlier this year with testimony from two Superior Court judges and a municipal judge. Jonathan Diego, a former assistant solicitor in the city’s law department, alleged he was fired for complaining that the city had ignored several incidents of police corruption. One involved a police officer’s removal of documents from a file ordered by a judge. Another involved accusations that black police officers’ racial profiling complaints were ignored. In response, the city claimed Diego was fired because he had an explosive temper and abused his colleagues. He also waited 10 months to file his complaint, the defense pointed out. Superior Court Judge Edward Oles ruled that “while there is no requirement for proportionality between damages recovered and counsel fee awards, the Trial Court’s responsibility to review carefully the loadstar fee is heightened in cases in which the fee requested is disproportionate to the damages covered.” Dwyer had asked for $250 an hour, for a total of $98,885 in fees and disbursements, plus an enhancement due to the case’s difficulty and risk. Oles gave him the $250 rate for legal work but a $100 rate for travel time to depositions. That has Dwyer steamed. He believes the rationale lowered his fee by $20,000. “Every case shows you’re entitled to your full rate for travel. There’s no basis for awarding a lower rate for travel,” he says. The city’s lawyer, James Savio of Margate, says Dwyer simply wanted to be rewarded for taking a client who lived far from his office. “Mr. Dwyer elected to take a case in Atlantic County,” he says. “But Judge Oles has made a decision in that regard and it’s a reasoned decision.” Savio admits the case was a difficult one: The city had taken a staunch no-pay position from the beginning. “It was bitterly contested, just about every aspect of the case was bitterly contested,” Savio says. “I just think the jury got it wrong and it happens, unfortunately.”

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