Attorneys for Matt and Melanie Capobianco want the biological father of the couple’s adopted daughter and an American Indian tribe to pay them more than $1 million for what they called unnecessary legal wrangling in Oklahoma.
Lawyers for the James Island residents appeared in six Sooner State courtrooms over seven weeks before they won the final order transferring custody of 4-year-old Veronica in late September.
That wouldn’t have happened, they said, if Dusten Brown hadn’t tried to halt a Charleston judge’s order finalizing his daughter’s adoption from being enforced in Oklahoma.
But it was Brown’s right to fight for his daughter, his Charleston attorney, Shannon Jones, said Tuesday.
“This is pure greed in the most offensive form,” Jones said. “I think it reveals a lot about the character of the people behind these attempts to financially benefit from sad and unfortunate events.”
The request for the funds is sealed from public view, but the Tulsa World newspaper obtained a copy of the paperwork Tuesday.
In the motion filed Friday in Nowata County, Okla., the attorneys said “Brown’s blatant refusal to comply” with the decree entitled them to reimbursement of the legal expenses they incurred during the time he “secreted” the child away to land owned by the Cherokee Nation, the tribe he belongs to.
Four law firms cited in the document spent 2,114 hours on the case and $6,535 in costs. The fees for their services totaled $1,028,797.
Two of the attorneys, Paul Swain and Noel Tucker, are from Oklahoma. Each said they racked up about $130,000 in fees.
The other two firms are based Washington, where successful litigator Lisa Blatt argued their side in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Blatt’s charge was about $322,431, or about $618 per hour.
The other Washington attorney, Lori Alvino McGill of Latham & Watkins, acted as a spokeswoman for the couple in the last weeks of their legal saga. Her firm incurred $441,931 in fees, the filing stated, at an hourly rate of about $721 — the priciest of the four.
Alvino McGill said Tuesday that the Capobiancos long ago exhausted their personal funds during appeals in South Carolina, so their attorneys continued to work for them for free, or “pro bono.”
But under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, the Capobiancos’ attorneys are entitled to the expenses because they ultimately prevailed, Alvino McGill said.
She said the Capobiancos and their attorneys would have been happy to collect “absolutely nothing” if Brown and the tribe had abided by the decree in early August. Instead, they “exposed themselves to liability” for not promptly handing over Veronica, Alvino McGill said.
In contempt of court proceedings in Charleston, the couple’s attorneys here also have filed documents asking Brown and the tribe to pay for expenses. The status of that case wasn’t immediately known Tuesday.
Jones, the Charleston attorney for Brown, said the Capobiancos’ lawyers had agreed to represent the couple pro bono and shouldn’t be allowed now to get money for their services.
Brown won custody of the girl in late 2011 under the Indian Child Welfare Act. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the federal law didn’t apply to Brown, plowing the way for South Carolina courts to finalize the Capobiancos’ adoption of Veronica the next month.
Despite Brown’s challenges and a failed attempt at mediation, Oklahoma courts registered the adoption there in late September. Brown was forced to hand over the child without a guarantee that he would ever see her again.
When he was on the winning side in Charleston, Brown paid more than $75,000 in legal fees, his attorney said. But he didn’t ask for reimbursement from the couple, Jones said, because they had suffered too.
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.
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