“Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has unleashed another zinger at class-action attorneys, trashing a settlement over joint-pain pills that would have paid attorneys $2 million in fees, more than double what their clients got.” [Daniel Fisher, Forbes, whose own writing gets cited; opinion in Pearson v. NBTY] From the ABA Journal:
The opinion was a victory for Ted Frank of the Center for Class Action Fairness, who objected to the settlement as a class member. He told the Am Law Litigation Daily he will be citing the case in new objections to class-action settlements. So far, he says, his group has persuaded courts to wipe out $271 million in attorney fees in the 39 cases in which the center achieved some success.
“This is the best opinion out there” on class settlement issues, Frank told the Litigation Daily. “I think it will have a dramatic effect on class action settlements negotiated.”
“A federal appeals court has rejected an ‘inequitable — even scandalous’ class-action settlement, removed the lead lawyer and reinstated ‘defrocked’ lead plaintiffs who had objected to the deal.” The ruling, involving a class action against the Pella Corp., window manufacturers, is another triumph for Ted Frank, former contributor to this blog and now a prominent objector through his Center for Class Action Fairness. [ABA Journal, Chicago Daily Law Bulletin ("attorneys would receive $11 million in fees while their clients would get, at most, $8.5 million — and likely much less")]
We have often reported on controversies over cy pres class action settlements, in which part or all of a settlement fund goes to charities, universities, advocacy groups, or other unrelated institutions as opposed to actual victims of the sued-over conduct. Most appeals courts have agreed that cy pres raises distinctive issues that call for judicial oversight, yet the various federal circuits have marched off in different directions as to the appropriate nature and extent of such oversight, leading to inconsistency at least, and perhaps also to forum-shopping by lawyers seeking lenient standards.
Now figures well known to many of our readers — Ted Frank of the Center for Class Action Fairness, and David Rifkin and Andrew Grossman of Baker & Hostetler — have petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari in a case arising from a privacy suit against Facebook over its Beacon program that eventuated in a cy pres settlement. “More than $6 million of [the] money was directed to the establishment of a new Internet privacy foundation with an advisory board that includes a Facebook representative and a plaintiffs’ lawyer from the case.” [Alison Frankel; Ted Frank/PoL; CCAF] Related: the “real problem with cy pres has never been that it is too costly. The real problem is that it creates an incentive for class counsel to act against the interests of the class.” [Andrew Trask]
Longtime Overlawyered blogger Ted Frank just saved class members more than $25 million in a case in which his Center for Class Action Fairness had objected to the attorneys’ fee request in a settlement against Citigroup. Ted argued that the plaintiff’s lawyers were marking up to associate-level rates, at $400/hour or more, the work of contract attorneys who were being paid $50/hour or less for document review and similar tasks. Accepting the critique in part, the “order by U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein in New York cut the fee award to Kirby McInerney by $26.7 million to $70.8 million.” [Daniel Fisher/Forbes, WSJ, Point of Law and more]
It may be worse than before class action lawyers got involved, argues Ted Frank [Point of Law]
Ted’s successful 7th Circuit objection in June in a Sears shareholder class action (Easterbrook: “The only goal of this suit appears to be fees for the plaintiffs’ lawyers”), which raised widespread discussion, is just one in a string of wins for his Center for Class Action Fairness in recent months. In a settlement involving complaints against Classmates.com, the judge agreed with the arguments of CCAF client (and George Mason lawprof) Michael Krauss, rapped class counsel’s knuckles with a $100,000 sanction for discovery tactics that amounted to harassment (see section III-D), and ordered a better deal for class members [PoL] And in yet another noteworthy case: “The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected a settlement of a class action over potentially leaky Volkswagen sunroofs that would have paid the lawyers who negotiated it $9.2 million in fees and the majority of car owners nothing.” [Daniel Fisher/Forbes, Ted at PoL, earlier]
Ted makes it big with a profile that focuses on his class-action objection work (as opposed to his stellar blogging at this site). More: Larry Ribstein.