For reporting on unlawful dumping of sludge into US waters, twelve ship workers are getting whistleblower payments of $437,500 apiece, in what one of their lawyers describes as an “amazing and unexpected windfall that the government essentially arranged for them”. Lawyers for all but two of the workers are charging them fees of $10,000 or less apiece, and one charged no fee at all. However, attorney Zachary Hawthorn of Beaumont, Texas, who represents two clients, says he’s entitled to a 33 percent contingency from their share, amounting to nearly $300,000. Federal prosecutors in Boston “suggest Hawthorn took advantage of unsophisticated ship hands who are not native English speakers and who had little familiarity with the American legal system. They also contend his work was ‘materially indistinguishable’ from that of the other lawyers, who were paid 90 percent less than his requested fee.” On the other hand, the clients have signed statements asking that the fees be approved. Prevailing law restricts lawyers from charging excessive fees and does not make client consent a defense if unreasonable fees are charged, but in practice “judges are typically reluctant to interfere with lawyer-client fee arrangements, especially when a client has not complained”. (Sacha Pfeiffer, Boston Globe, Nov. 10).