Fayette County

Jail suit attorneys owed $2.1 million

Lexington will be paying more than $2.1 million in attorneys' fees in the settlement of an overtime pay lawsuit involving more than 300 current and former Fayette County Detention Center corrections officers.

The fees are about double the amount corrections officers will receive in the settlement.

The more than $2 million being paid to attorneys "is enough to gag a maggot, but that's the way it is," said Urban County Councilman David Stevens.

In these lawsuits, the lawyers are the only ones who always win, Stevens said.

The majority of those fees, about $1.3 million, will be paid to attorneys from Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs, who were hired to represent the city.

The other $870,000 will be paid to attorneys from Miller, Griffin & Marks, the attorneys for the corrections officers.

When you look at the attorneys' fees "against the actual settlement for the corrections officers, the attorneys fees might seem exorbitant," said Councilman Don Blevins Jr.

But because the city's exposure in the lawsuit could have been millions of dollars, instead of just 1 million, "the attorneys' fees seem reasonable," Blevins said.

In addition to the legal bills, the city will pay the corrections officers $1.15 million in cash and paid leave time. The city will also make policy changes at the jail, which include longer lunch breaks and paying officers for their lunch breaks if they are required to work.

The settlement agreement was approved Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Jennifer Coffman.

The settlement and attorneys' fees seem "fair and reasonable," Coffman said. The settlement doesn't give anybody everything, but takes all factors into account, she said.

The city's bill from Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs is high, but the hours were legitimate and did not appear to be padded, said Stevens, who along with Councilman Ed Lane has reviewed the bill.

The attorneys were involved in a number of depositions and "prepared for a trial, which with mediation turned out to be unnecessary," Stevens said.

"Those bills are not cheap," said Councilman Kevin Stinnett. "The sad part of it all is that the workers are the ones who get shorted in the long run. They have been under a system that has not been fair to them. Hopefully we'll get this situation corrected out there."

The corrections officers' settlement will be divided between $805,000 in cash and $345,000 worth of paid leave time — or 2,530 leave days for the employees still employed at the jail.

Starting Oct. 27, policy changes will be made at the jail so that officers will receive 30-minute lunch breaks and will be paid overtime if they have to work before or after their shifts.

Work duties during those breaks will be limited to emergencies, said attorney Tom Miller, who represents the corrections officers.

"Our clients primarily wanted a real lunch break and to be paid for time that they worked," Miller said. "The end result gets them not only that, but also gets them a very substantial amount of money so I am extremely pleased with the result for my clients. Where we started to where we finished is an ocean apart."

The lawsuit, filed in 2006 under Mayor Teresa Isaac's administration, alleges that the city engaged in multiple longstanding, widespread violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards act and the Kentucky Wage and Hours Act.

Corrections officers were often asked to perform job duties while on their 20-minute lunch breaks but were not paid for the breaks. Officers also were not paid if they had to come in early or stay after their eight-hour shifts. Some higher-ranking officers at the jail were required to take compensatory time — additional hours off — instead of overtime.