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Judge waives rules to award 40% of $6.75M settlement of DCYF abuse case to lawyers

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 25. 2018 1:24PM
ATTORNEY RUS RILEE (Thomas Roy/Union Leader File)

Lawyers will get 40 percent of the $6.75 million that the state of New Hampshire is paying to two girls who were abused while they were under DCYF protection, a judge has ruled.

That works out to $2.7 million in taxpayer dollars for Rus Rilee, the attorney who waged a four-year, high-stakes battle against the New Hampshire Division of Children Youth and families, Easterseals New Hampshire and CASA.

Rilee and his fellow lawyers eventually earned the right to sue DCYF and the two non-profit agencies in open court. That led to the recent settlements.

Rilee and his firm will likely earn even more: the settlements with Easterseals and CASA and the associated lawyer fees have not been disclosed, and both sides have refused to talk about them.

On Friday, Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Gillian Abramson waived state rules, which recommend a 25 percent limit for attorney fees in lawsuits that involve children.

Abramson noted that Rilee and his two fellow lawyers are a small firm that devoted four years of time and resources to the case.

Essentially, they had no income during that time, the judge wrote. Their direct expenses totaled $10,000, according to the ruling.

The girls’ grandparents, who have adopted them, support the settlement, Abramson said.

“From the outset, plaintiffs have maintained that the purpose of this litigation was not solely to seek damages ... but to bring defendants’ actions to light and hold them publicly accountable for the benefit of all children in this state,” Abramson wrote. “As a result, counsel faced an immediate uphill battle against the status quo of confidentiality in DCYF cases.”

Abramson said the higher fee is warranted because of the quality of the attorneys’ work and the results they achieved.

Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, who argued against the higher percentage, has said the state will release the money once Abramson makes her ruling.

Officials have described the abuse against the two girls, which took place in 2013, as unspeakable. Their parents had partially supervised visitation, and the abuse happened when DCYF was not present.

Both parents pleaded guilty in 2014 to two counts each of aggravated felonious sexual assault and manufacturing child sex-abuse images, and are serving prison terms of 25 years to life.

General News Manchester

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