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The Supreme Court will decide whether a judge can award more money to winning lawyers because the judge thought they did a good job.


The high court on Monday agreed to hear an appeal from the state of Georgia over attorney fees for lawyers who sued to force dramatic changes in Georgia's foster care system.

U.S. District Judge Marvin Shoob awarded them $10.5 million in attorney fees, a $4.5 million enhancement on top of a $6 million award. Shoob said he increased the award because of the exceptional results that children's advocates achieved. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to overturn his decision.

The class-action lawsuit against Georgia, settled in 2005, prompted the state to reduce worker case loads, improve investigations into abuse and prevent overcrowding in foster homes. Gov. Sonny Perdue, one of the defendants in the lawsuit, authorized hiring 500 additional child welfare workers.

Shoob said the attorneys deserved the award because their lawsuit had beneficial results despite the state's resistance to reform. The state settled the case after fighting it for nearly three years.

Lawyers for Georgia say appeals courts around the nation have split on whether a judge can give lawyers extra money based on their performance.


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