Judge rules attorneys can collect fees in Yakima case

YAKIMA -- A federal judge has awarded $1.4 million in legal fees to attorneys representing Latino workers who say they were displaced by Thai workers brought to the Yakima Valley in 2004 by a labor contractor.

The ruling sets the stage for an appeal by the contractor, Global Horizons of California, to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

That appeal of the trial verdict, as well as related rulings by Judge Robert Whaley, was delayed until Whaley could rule on the request for attorneys' fees by Columbia Legal Services and other attorneys.

Whaley issued his ruling March 24 in U.S. District Court in Yakima. The case was filed in 2005.

Because of the appeal, the attorneys' fees have not been awarded. Neither has about $535,000 awarded to the 650 workers identified for the class-action lawsuit.

The plaintiffs' attorneys had asked for more than $2 million in legal fees. The judge applied a 20 percent reduction, an accepted practice in order to avoid analyzing individual charges.

Global and two farms that used the contractor -- Green Acre Farms of Harrah and Valley Fruit of Wapato -- were found guilty of violating state contracting rules. Whaley ruled that Global must pay the entire amount of legal costs.