Metro gets $50,000 legal bill after musician successfully sues to play near stations

Alex Young, who said he was tired of being hassled by transit police for playing his acoustic guitar near the Vienna, West Falls Church and Ballston stations, sued the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in 2014.

“All I’m doing is, I’m entertaining people,” Young said after the suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. “And by having my guitar case open, what I’m saying is, ‘I’m just trying to brighten your day, and if you’d like to support my music, you can donate.’ ”

Young, who didn’t ask for monetary damages, won the case in 2015. But there was an outstanding issue: his lawyers’ bill, which Metro argued should be substantially smaller than what was billed.

In a case that partly was about how much lawyers should be compensated depending on their levels of experience, Judge Beryl A. Howell disagreed.

“WMATA contests two categories of hours billed by the plaintiff’s attorneys in connection with his successful First Amendment action,” Howell wrote. “However, WMATA fails to demonstrate that either category of hours was unreasonably billed.”

Metro will now have to pay $50,145 to Young’s counsel. Metro officials declined to comment on the case Wednesday.

Jeffrey Louis Light, a private civil rights attorney who represented Young in conjunction with the Rutherford Institute, a Charlottesville group that advocates for civil liberties, said Metro’s decision to contest the fees increased them by about $20,000 as the issue was drawn out in court.

“They’re a business,” said Light, who will take home $33,447.10 in the case at hourly rates of up to $661. “They need to make sensible business decisions. This is not one of them.”

Light also pointed out that the agency had the opportunity to settle the case for nothing.

“They spent time arguing over whether this guy should have his guitar case open, and for what?” he said.

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