June 19, 2012; Source: The Republic

In March, NPQ noted that the New York-based advocacy group Children’s Rights reached a settlement with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services after the advocacy group had alleged that that the state of Oklahoma mistreated children in its foster care system. The class action lawsuit ended with Oklahoma agreeing to revamp its foster care system through the “Pinnacle Plan,” the state’s $153 million plan for foster care reform over the course of five years. Now, Children’s Rights has sent its legal bill to Oklahoma, totaling $9.5 million in legal fees that the organization says accumulated in the four years leading up to the settlement.

Children’s Rights filed this fee request in federal court with the claim that its attorneys devoted over 36,000 working hours to the now-settled lawsuit. More than double the $4 million the legislature allocated for the nonprofit’s legal fees, the $9.5 million price tag is raising eyebrows in Oklahoma. According to Children’s Rights Executive Director Marcia Robinson Lowry, “It is a little surprising given how much this state was willing to spend to defend the lawsuit,” which has reportedly cost the Department of Human Services nearly $7 million so far. She further stated, “I’ve never seen a case with a system as bad as this one with a defense as expensive as this was.”{loadmodule mod_banners,Newswire Subscription Plea}

In a statement on Tuesday, Department of Human Services spokeswoman Sheree Powell said, “We will closely examine Children’s Rights’ time and expense records and, where appropriate, challenge them before the court. Ultimately, the court will determine the reasonableness of their hourly rates and their hours expended.” In response, Lowry said the state is welcome to examine the group’s billing records. In the group notes for the filing of the settlement of the lawsuit, Children’s Rights claimed that its work removed “a culture of denial and inattention” and “a system with no accountability” in favor of an open agency that “may well serve as a model for systems across the country.” If so, the cost for the potential solutions to a broken system that serves children without a voice could arguably be priceless. –Saras Chung