The state Assembly has passed a bill regulating attorney fees, limiting them to three times the amount of damages — although judges would have discretion to award more. The measure passed the Assembly on 55-39 vote Thursday night after previous passage in the Senate, and now heads to Governor Scott Walker who’s expected to sign it into law.
Trial lawyers and Democratic lawmakers have contended that the bill will deprive many of a day in court, because attorney’s will be unable to recoup their expenses under the reduced fee structure. “I do have a problem with this bill,” Madison Democrat Brett Hulsey said. “Basically, it sets up a situation where students – and I have many students and seniors who rent in my district – when they have a problem with their landlords, they will not be able to get justice.” Minority Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha slammed the legislation. “We are hurting the little people, and this is an awful bill, a terrible bill,” he said “And it’s a special session on jobs bills?”
But the bill’s author, Burlington Republican Robin Vos – himself a landlord involved in a pending claim by tenants – defended the legislation. “It’s all about the trial lawyer, that’s what it’s really about,” said Vos. “Because we took care of the little guy when we passed our budget.” Vos explained that Republicans doubled the amount people can seek in small claims court, from $5,000 to $10,000. The small claims court filing fee is eighty dollars.
Also Thursday night, the Assembly concurred in two other special session bills passed by the Senate. One bill lowers the interest on lawsuit judgments to the prime rate plus one percent, the other reduces the liability of property owners for injuries or deaths sustained by trespassers.