Busing Case Generating Windfall Fees for Attorneys

Appealing their way to the bank

Attorneys in the Dallas school desegregation case had good reason to smile when the school board recently decided to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. For the lawyers, the busing issue is proving to be a long, lucrative gravy train – and the taxpayers are picking up the tab.

The Dallas Independent School District has paid about $300,000 to school attorney Warren Whitham’s firm of Stafford, Gay and Whitham since 1973. That figure does not include payments made before 1973, the records of which are buried in storage and unobtainable, school officials say. The firm has been working on the case since the suit was filed in 1970.

Whitham, whose firm also receives thousands of dollars annually from the DISD for work unrelated to the desegregation case, does not include in his bills a breakdown of hours spent working on each segment of the case. Whitham’s most recent bill, for $44,305, included such items as “general research, study and briefing …” and “study of publication of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, Desegregation Without Turmoil.”

In addition to Whitham’s charges, there’s the $114,000 sought by NAACP attorney E. Brice Cunningham. Cunningham has asked U.S. Dist. Judge William Taylor to order the DISD to pay him for time spent contesting the Dallas desegregation plan. Cunningham charges a flat $100 per hour for his services: He contends that his fee is “entirely too low” considering his experience in desegregation cases.

Cunningham’s request for payment includes $8,600 for the 86 hours he says he spent reading the November 1976 court transcripts. The attorney is also seeking $230 for the time he spent itemizing his bill to submit to the court.

Judge Taylor has the option of granting Cunningham less than the full amount he is seeking. But even if he does, the upcoming appeal will boost legal fees for the Dallas desegregation case to well over $500,000 before the case is settled.

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