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HELBRANS v. COOMBE

May 12, 1995

SHLOMO HELBRANS, Plaintiff, against PHILIP COOMBE, JR., As Acting Commissioner of Department of Correctional Services of The State of New York, JAMES BIRD, Warden of Rikers Island Correctional Facility, and ANTHONY J. SCHEMBRI, Commissioner of Department of Correctional Services of the City of New York, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: HAROLD BAER, JR.

 Harold Baer, Jr., U.S.D.J.:

 Plaintiff Shlomo Helbrans moves this court for an award of attorneys' fees pursuant to the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Award Act of 1976, codified at 42 U.S.C. § 1988 ("Section 1988") Helbrans seeks reimbursement of the legal fees he incurred in this action against the defendants (the "State") for injunctive relief under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 ("RFRA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000bb et seq., the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 et seq., and the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 et seq.

 For the reasons that follow, Helbrans' motion is GRANTED. The fees requested, however, shall be reduced in accordance with this opinion.

 Background

 Helbrans, an Orthodox Hasidic Jew and, at one time, the Rabbi of a Yeshiva in Monsey, New York, adheres to a religious tradition forbidding the removal of facial hair. He claims that this prohibition is a fundamental tenet of Hasidic Jewry, and applies with even greater force to Hasidic Rabbis. Apparently, the origins of the prohibition trace to scholarly interpretation of the Torah's admonition: "They shall not shave an edge of their beard." Leviticus, 19:27.

 In November 1994, Helbrans was found guilty of kidnapping in the Second Degree and Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree, after which he was incarcerated on Rikers Island pending sentencing. The offenses involved the abduction of a thirteen year old Jewish boy, whom Helbrans was bent on converting from a secular upbringing to a strict Orthodox lifestyle. On November 22, 1994, Helbrans was sentenced to serve in state prison two concurrent sentences of four to twelve years and one to three years.

 On November 30, 1994, the court granted Helbrans' application for a temporary restraining order and directed the State to show cause why a preliminary injunction should not issue restraining them from removing Helbrans' facial hair, or from otherwise interfering with his rights.

 Helbrans thereafter retained a computer imaging expert and, on the second day of the preliminary injunction hearing, produced computer-generated photographs of himself sans facial hair. After reviewing the photographs, the parties agreed to resolve the action without further litigation. The parties entered into a stipulation on January 6, 1995, precluding the defendants from (1) removing Helbrans' beard; and (2) placing Helbrans in administrative segregation or imposing on Helbrans any other form of disciplinary action for refusing to shave.

 On January 25, 1995, the hirsute Helbrans moved for an award of attorneys' fees under Section 1988. His attorneys -- Duker & Barrett ("D&B"), a New York City law firm with approximately twenty-five attorneys in its New York City office, and Gerald. L. Shargel, a solo practitioner -- have submitted fees totalling $ 78,739.00, comprising approximately 282 billed hours.

 Helbrans is currently incarcerated at the Green Haven Correctional Facility in Stormville, New York.

 Discussion

 A. Prevailing Party Under ...


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