Ms. Jennifer Gaut was one of the three attorneys who represented the Gracias in their civil forfeiture cases in Harris County and is representing them on appeal from the second judgment. Their animals are gone but the fight goes on and, as she and I have often discussed, we know the public does not understand what goes on behind the scenes in these cases. She wrote me a very kind email in response to my last blog entry which includes an explanation of some of those issues and has consented to publication.
Thank you PJ for posting this [AlphaTex need YOU]. People truly have no idea how huge this
victory is. More importantly, they have no idea how much blood, sweat
and tears have gone into this victory. For the most part, it started
back in July 2010 with the Gracias. We ultimately lost but we fought
the good fight, made the county attorney's office work harder than
they've had to work on one of these cases, and managed to scare the
HSPCA just a bit.
What Paul and Jessica have done is amazing but people should understand, their victory didn't happen overnight. They've had two trials in less than 3 months....Most civil cases never even make it to trial but when they do, it's after at least a year or two of languishing around with discovery, motions, mediation, etc. In addition to the two trials, Paul & Jessica had numerous hearings where they challenged everything from jurisdiction, venue, the lawfulness of the seizure, the judge, and even Feare. For there to be hearing, a motion has to be filed. After the motion is filed, the other side responds, then you respond to their response (sometimes with less than a day until the hearing). The ruling on the motion usually results in more motions being filed. Motions require arguments which require case law which requires research. Just preparing for one hearing (which includes drafting the motion and a response) can take hours. Preparing for a trial takes days and weeks. And it also takes money....lots and lots of money.
An attorney of Paul's caliber can easily charge $250 to $300 an hour (or more, he is certainly worth it). When an attorney bills for a civil case, he (or SHE!) can and does bill for everything .... every phone call, every email, every typed word, every minute of research, every minute spent in court, every minute drafting a motion, every minute reading a motion, every minute conferencing with opposing counsel, every minute spent with a witness, every minute spent with the client, every minute spent investigating, and every minute his / her associate, his receptionist, and his / her paralegal works on the case (this includes time spent making copies, making phone calls, faxing documents, dealing with exhibits, etc)....EVERY SINGLE MINUTE (in fact, every 10th of a minute!) CAN AND DOES GET BILLED.
In a case like this, a win does not bring attorney fees (unlike a win in a personal injury case or something like that). This means the attorney has to bill the client. But in these type of cases, billing the client isn't feasible. For instance, in the Gracia case, I got retained on Sunday July 18th, I worked almost nonstop on the case Mon - Thurs (while also trying to deal with my other cases), and then we started trial on Friday July 23rd. Luckily Martin and Leira joined me in trial. To have 3 attorneys in trial, at what should have been $500 an hour ($125 an hour for me, $125 an hour for Leira, $250 [at least] an hour for Martin) for 5 FULL Days (approximate 40 hours) would have been $20,000....and that would have just been for the JP trial! It doesn't include all the hours put in on the case the 4 days before trial, every night after trial, and the two weekends during the trial. Conservatively, we are talking another $20,000. (so $40K just for the JP portion of their case).
As you remember, after the JP proceedings, we had multiple hearings etc and then TWO FULL WEEKS OF TRIAL in October. After the trial, there were several post-judgment hearings (3 hearings on the issue of damages, two hearings on the motion for new trial, and two hearings on the indigent issue for the appellate transcript). A defense for this kind of case can quickly cost at least $150,000 to $200,000. And people forget that we still have expenses that must be paid. We still have to pay our receptionist, our law clerk, our office overhead (monthly rent, phone, internet, copies, etc), as well as all fees directly associated with a case. For instance, every time I want someone served with a subpoena, I have to pay a process server anywhere from $75.00 to $100.00 (per subpoena). Every time I go to court in Harris County, I have to pay for parking (while in trial, I always had to park in the garage @ $8.00 / day because we had to lug boxes back and forth AND you can only park 2 to 4 hours at a meter - so for the 3 of us @ $8.00 / day for the 12 days of trial was $288.00 - plus we all had to buy food at the courthouse every day since we were there at 8:30 a.m. and usually left somewhere around 6:00 p.m.). Every time I file a motion in court, I have to either use gas and time to drive to the court house to file it OR I have to pay a $16.00 electronic filing fee. I have to pay for every copy I make, every long-distance fax, every document sent to opposing counsel by CMRRR, every bit of supplies, etc, etc, etc. In our case, we had to hire a translator for Bertha when she testified.....that bill was close to a $1000.00.
In addition to the time he spent on this case, which is invaluable, I know Paul spent an enormous amount of money on this case (not necessarily because he wanted to but because he had to....winning ain't easy OR cheap). Just filing the Federal lawsuit cost several hundred dollars in filing fees (and does not include the cost to serve the opposing parties). And what no one seems to think about or remember is this: Paul is solo practitioner. This means he is not collecting a paycheck every two weeks like the goons at the county attorney's office. The Attorneys at the county attorney's office get a paycheck no matter what happens in the case AND they don't have to personally foot the bill for anything (in fact, their parking is reimbursed, their lunches during trial are reimbursed, etc)....Guess who foots the bills for the county attorney's office to fight these cases? The citizens of that county. But when we (Paul, Jessica, me, Leira, Martin, etc) handle one of these cases, we aren't getting a paycheck from anyone and generally, we aren't getting paid by our clients (for the reasons mentioned above, not because the clients don't want to). So our expenses skyrocket while our income plummets. It took me and Martin several months after the Gracia trial to recover financially.....Because of all the work we had to put into the case and all the time spent in court in trial, our practice basically came to a screeching halt; afterwards we were exhausted, swamped with back-logged work, and broke.
I hope that people take what you posted to heart and DONATE. As a person who's been through this (and still going through it [but on a smaller scale] since I'm appealing the Gracia case), I know the financial and emotional toll this kind of case takes on an attorney. I know people think we (attorneys) are made out of money but we aren't. And many of us, especially those that choose to practice criminal defense like myself and Paul, don't do it because we think we are going to get rich. Rather, we do it because we are believers in the constitution, and we want to fight for those who often can't fight for themselves. I did not take the Gracia case b/c I am a lover of birds (in fact, you know I knew very little about birds), and Paul didn't take the Smith's case b/c he's a lover of dogs (although I know he is). We did it because we were incensed at the injustice and blatant violation of people's constitutional rights. There are very few attorneys who will even take one of these cases, fewer who know how to handle this type of case, and even fewer who will actually fight it the way it must be fought.
Paul is a rare breed (no pun intended), so I hope and pray people will support him by donating money to the cause.... People never know when they might end up on the other side of the fence and will need someone like Paul to step in and defend their constitutional rights. I know people are struggling financially but every little bit matters, every little bit counts, and every little bit is appreciated. You know I'm broke, but I'm going to put in my few dollars so he can continue to fight the good fight......Every victory matters, and his win today is a win for all of us.
Jennifer R. Gaut
PJ's footnote: There is no ACLU for animal owners to turn to. All those who have worked on the AlphaTex and Gracia cases are that rare breed who cared enough about property rights, about constitutional rights and protections, to step up but they cannot do this alone. For them, this is a profession, how they feed their families. Ms. Gaut isn't joking about being broke. She's a young, new lawyer who has contributed her own time and reached into her own pocket to fund the Gracia case and is now helping fund the AlphaTex case. WE own the animals and it is grossly unfair to expect these professionals to fund these cases. It's time for us to do our part or resign ourselves to summary loss of our rights and property.