We’ve recently discussed the Kentucky fen-phen scandal, in which the plaintiffs’ lawyers are accused of stealing tens of millions of dollars from their clients; there’s another brewing scandal involving fen-phen lawyers in New York.
Napoli Kaiser Bern (now known as Napoli Bern) represented more than 5,000 plaintiffs who had opted out of the larger class action suit against manufacturer AHP; a whistleblower, or disgruntled ex-employee (take your pick) alleged that Napoli Bern manipulated the amounts of the settlement to be paid to each plaintiff — giving more to its own direct clients — so that Napoli could maximize its own profits at the expense of other law firms.
More important is the allegation that Napoli Bern lied to its clients (and to its own expert witness on ethics) in making them think that the amounts allocated to each plaintiff had been determined by AHP and reviewed by a special master appointed by the court; in fact, it appears that Napoli Bern may have decided unilaterally how much to offer each plaintiff. Yesterday, a New York state judge ruled that the allegations had sufficient merit to reopen the settlement and send the allegations against Napoli Bern to trial.
The stakes are high here; the total amount of this settlement — confidential, but reportedly at least a billion dollars — is not at issue, but the distribution of that money among the lawyers and plaintiffs is. As the judge noted, in theory the penalty could be as severe as requiring Napoli Bern to forfeit all fees earned in the case. (Isn’t mass tort litigation fun? Billions of dollars of Other People’s Money floating around, waiting for lawyers to figure out how to distribute it.)