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Canada Lawyers in N.S. orphanage abuse settlement must justify legal fees

The Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children is seen in Dartmouth, N.S. on Tuesday, Jan.8, 2013.

Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A judge has asked a law firm seeking $6.6 million in legal fees to provide proof of the hours its staff put in to win a settlement for people who alleged they were abused at a Halifax orphanage.

Judge Arthur LeBlanc of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court said Wednesday he is also looking for detailed records on the expenses of 10 lawyers, three paralegals and two students who helped former residents of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children win $34-million in settlements from two class-action lawsuits.

The legal fees amount to 19.4 per cent of the overall settlement, a figure lead lawyer Ray Wagner says is reasonable considering his firm laboured on the file since 1998 without guaranteed payment.

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LeBlanc said he couldn't approve the legal fee agreement without more precise information on the hours worked, particularly between 1998 and 2007, when many of Wagner's clients were individual files before they were part of the class-action lawsuits.

The judge initially suggested an outside adviser known as an amicus be brought in to help the court assess the fee claim. But he later ruled he would accept sworn affidavits from the law firm's staff that documents the time they spent on the file.

LeBlanc also questioned some of the expenses charged by the firm, citing as one example 20-cent photocopy charges — saying he would only accept 10 cents per copy.

Wagner said the judge's ruling was reasonable.

"It's a fair question and a fair way to deal with it," Wagner said outside court. "Because it's so much time and so many records, it's going to be fairly voluminous."

Wagner said his fees are justified considering the 16 years he and his colleagues spent on the file and the fact his firm had to carry a high-interest loan to finance costs of the case.

"There's also what was accomplished," he said. "This is a great settlement, a fair settlement for the class members."

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Wagner said he hopes the affidavits wouldn't cause a delay in awarding the settlements to approximately 300 people he said have submitted claims for alleged mistreatment and abuse.

Wagner said the claims process begins Oct. 10 but he expects to provide the affidavits to the judge before the end of this month.

A date for the next hearing on the matter was not set.

People who alleged they were abused at the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children were awarded a $29-million class-action settlement with the provincial government and another $5-million settlement with the orphanage.

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