Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Tenth Circuit Reverses $8,000 Awarded for Attorney's Fee as Too Arbitrary

The Tenth Circuit reversed $8,000 awarded for attorney's fees. Michael Zinna used websites JeffcoExposed.Com and ColoradoExposed.Com to report on local government issues and provided a public service by encouraging transparency and accountability in Jefferson County government. He exposed public scandals that included sexual harassment resulting in resignation of two county officials.

With website visitors in excess of 100,000, Jefferson County Commissioners targeted Zinna. They used county resources to investigate Zinna, had sheriff's officers follow him, and muted his microphone at a public meeting. They launched the website with his mugshot, criminal history, list of civil judgments against him, and warned visitors to not do business with him.

Zinna filed §1983 against county officials for violation of his First Amendment rights for retaliation against him for criticizing county officials. After several pretrial motions by county officials, James Congrove was the only remaining party of the suit. Zinna sought economic and punitive damages. The jury awarded him $1,791 for the First Amendment violation because he proved Congrove abused his authority as a Jefferson County Commissioner to retaliate.

Under §1988, Zinna wanted $503,000 in attorneys' fee. The district court instead awarded $8,000 for each of the eight days of trial. Zinna appealed the award as unreasonable. Because the district court failed to use the lodestar or Zinna's record to award $8,000, the Tenth Circuit determined that the award was arbitrarily assumed and that the district court abused its discretion. The Tenth Circuit vacated the lower court's fee order and remanded the case for further proceedings. See: Zinna v. Congrove, 680 F.3d 1236 (10th Cir. 2012).

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Zinna v. Congrove