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Meese Awarded $472,000 for Fees in Inquiry

Times Staff Writer

A special federal court Friday awarded Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III $472,190 in legal fees he incurred during an independent counsel’s investigation of his financial activities--two-thirds of the $720,824 he had sought.

Meese’s confirmation as attorney general by the Senate was held up while Jacob A. Stein, the court-appointed independent counsel, conducted a five-month inquiry into Meese’s financial dealings with persons who received federal appointments and other matters. Stein concluded last Sept. 20 that he had found “no basis” for prosecuting Meese.

Meese then applied for reimbursement to the special division of the U.S. Court of Appeals that presides over independent counsel matters.

11 Allegations Covered

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The Stein investigation covered 11 allegations, ranging from whether there were improprieties in Meese’s promotion to colonel in the Army Reserve to any relationship between loans made to Meese or his wife and the appointment to federal jobs of individuals involved in securing the loans.

A central charge that triggered the inquiry was Meese’s failure to list on his official government disclosure forms an interest-free $15,000 loan to his wife, Ursula, by Edwin W. Thomas, a close family friend. Thomas, his wife, Gretchen, and son Tad later were named to federal jobs.

Leonard Garment, one of Meese’s two principal attorneys, called the court’s decision “thoughtful and fair” and said it “ends the Meese litigation.” Similarly, E. Robert Wallach, a San Francisco lawyer and longtime Meese friend, said that he was “delighted with the result” and that he considered his $76,870 portion of the award “full compensation for my legal services.”

Meese’s office at the Justice Department referred questions to the lawyers. His retainer agreement with Garment’s Washington law firm provided that the firm would accept the amount the court awarded unless the three-judge panel “were to substantially deny payment.”

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In refusing to award the full amount, the court said that it had considered, among other things, “the failure of one counsel to keep contemporaneous records of time spent representing” Meese. The court did not name the lawyer, but a source familiar with the case said that it was Wallach.

Billing Protested

The court also cited “the non-reimbursability of time spent dealing with the media in the course of representing” Meese.

Last February, Ray Jenkins, editorial page editor of the Baltimore Evening Sun, objected to a claim by Garment for payment with public funds for time that Garment had spent attacking one of Jenkins’ editorials, which questioned Meese’s fitness for confirmation. Jenkins, who served in former President Jimmy Carter’s press office before joining the Sun, protested the billing to the special court.

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In their one-page order, the judges did not specify how much of the fee reduction resulted from the lawyers’ dealings with news media.

Among the other “relevant factors” the judges said that they had weighed in cutting the fee were “the reasonableness of the time expended by counsel for Edwin Meese III and of the rates charged for that time.” The fees reached up to $250 an hour.

First Use of Amendment

The court awarded Garment’s firm $357,515 in legal fees instead of the $533,327 it had sought, and $37,805 in expenses instead of the $45,034 it had sought. Wallach, who had sought $142,562 in fees, was awarded $76,870.

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Fee Application a First

Meese’s fee application was the first under a 1983 amendment to the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, which provides for reimbursement of attorneys’ fees for officials who have been investigated by independent counsels and have not been indicted.

Wallach and Garment could not be reached for comment. Garment’s secretary read statements for both lawyers.

Wallach, who has been in Washington helping Meese interview candidates for several Justice Department vacancies, also said in his statement: “It has been a unique privilege to serve as a lawyer for one of America’s great public servants and my friend. This ends a difficult chapter in the lives of Ed and Ursula Meese. All persons of good will should join in wishing them both happiness and success as they continue to contribute to the well-being of this country.”

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