U.S. District Judge Marvin Shoob made the award, which was reduced from the requested $16 million, Tuesday.
The money will be split between the New York-based nonprofit Children’s Rights Inc., and the Atlanta firm of Bondurant, Mixon and Elmore.
The attorneys deserved the award because their lawsuit had beneficial results despite the state’s resistance to reform, Shoob wrote.
The state settled the case last year after fighting it for nearly three years. Georgia child welfare officials agreed to lower worker caseloads, improve investigations into child abuse and neglect, provide foster children with proper health services and prevent overcrowding in foster homes.
“After 58 years as a practicing attorney and federal judge, the court is unaware of any other case in which the plaintiff class has achieved such a favorable result on such a comprehensive scale,” Shoob said.
But Shoob’s decision disappointed state officials, who had said the award should be between $6 million and $8 million.
“Eleven million dollars could pay the salaries of every caseworker in Fulton County for a year, or it could pay for more than 1,800 children in foster care for a year,” said B.J. Walker, the commissioner of the state Department of Human Resources. “Children are the losers.”
Shoob largely rejected the state’s argument that the award should focus mainly on attorney hours and expenses. Shoob said he increased the award beyond that because of the results that children’s advocates achieved.
The judge awarded fees based on rates as high as $495 an hour for some of the attorneys in the case. He asserted that the state is in part to blame because it fought the case so long.