Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Award Act
The U.S. Congress codified the private attorney general principle into law with the enactment of Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Award Act of 1976, 42 U.S.C. § 1988. The Senate Report on this statute stated that The Senate Committee on the Judiciary wanted to level the playing field so that private citizens, who might have little or no money, could still serve as "private attorneys general" and afford to bring actions, even against state or local bodies, to enforce the civil rights laws. The Committee acknowledged that, "[i]f private citizens are to be able to assert their civil rights, and if those who violate the Nation's fundamental laws are not to proceed with impunity, then citizens must have the opportunity to recover what it costs them to vindicate these rights in court." Where a plaintiff wins his or her lawsuit and is considered the "prevailing party," § 1988 acts to shift fees, including expert witness fees [at least in certain types of civil rights actions, under the Civil Rights Act of 1991, even if not in § 1983 actions], and to make those who acted as private attorneys general whole again, thus encouraging the enforcement of the civil rights laws. The Senate reported that it intended fee awards to be "adequate to attract competent counsel" to represent client with civil rights grievances. S. Rep. No. 94-1011, p. 6 (1976). The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the act to provide for the payment of a "reasonable attorney's fee" based on the fair market value of the legal services.
Jump ^ Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, Inc., 390 U.S. 400, 402 (1968)
Jump ^ The earliest known use by a court in the United States is by Judge Frank in Associated Industries of New York State, Inc. v. Ickes, 134 F.2d 694 (2d Cir. 1943).
Jump ^ Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, Inc., 390 U.S. 400 (1968) 88 S.Ct. 964, 19 L.Ed.2d 1263.