10/16/2014 06:47 EDT | Updated 12/16/2014 05:59 EST

Lawyers will get $5.78 million in legal fees in Home for Colored Children case

HALIFAX - Lawyers who spent years handling the case of people who allege they were abused at a defunct orphanage have been awarded $5.78 million in legal fees by a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge.

Judge Arthur LeBlanc issued the decision Thursday in a case that involved hundreds of former residents of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children.

Attorney Ray Wagner, whose firm led the case, had asked for $6.6 million in legal costs for a case that took shape in the late 1990s and resulted in a $34-million settlement in July. The firm had sought 19.4 per cent of the total, but was awarded about 17 per cent.

Wagner said he wasn't bothered by the reduced amount, but worried that it may have a chilling effect on future cases.

"Back in 1998, if we knew that we would have to go through such rigour in terms of trying to justify 16 years of total free legal services to the class and have to spend half a million dollars, would we engage in that case today?" he said. "I don't think we would do that and I think that's a problem."

Wagner said he is disappointed that the ruling will mean that some claimants in the class could have to pay for their own expert reports, called disbursements, while others will not be responsible for that cost. He estimated that for some claimants who spearheaded the legal action early on, it could amount to about $70,000.

Wagner said he is considering an appeal.

Several former residents of the orphanage had said the law firm's claim for $6.6 million was fair.

A class-action lawsuit was launched by the former residents against the home and the provincial government, which eventually ended in settlements totalling $34 million.

The home came to a $5-million settlement with the plaintiffs in July 2013 and the Nova Scotia Supreme Court approved a $29-million award from the province a year later.

The compensation agreement finalized in July is broken into two payout categories.

The first is a common experience settlement, which applies to all residents who lived in the Halifax orphanage between Jan. 1, 1921, and Dec. 31, 1989.

The second and lengthier settlement category is an individual assessment program, which would address additional harms beyond those suffered by residents at large, including sexual abuse. Only residents of the Home for Colored Children after Nov. 1, 1951, would be eligible.

The Liberal government issued a formal apology to former residents last week and promised to hold a public inquiry into the alleged abuse at the home.