Update: cosmetics class action settlement

We’re tardy in noticing this, but it’s too colorful to omit: in the settlement of what we called the “no-blush, high-gloss, invisible-foundation antitrust class action” against cosmetics makers over pricing (see Jan. 14 and Mar. 14, 2005, and earlier links) the fee phase continued to generate showy highlights:

A bitter legal brawl over attorneys’ fees has erupted in a national cosmetics pricing class action lawsuit, with feuding camps of plaintiffs’ lawyers slinging allegations of flagrant billing abuses and extortion.

Among the alleged abuses were bills of $195 an hour for work by paralegals who were paid just $30, claims that attorneys and paralegals worked 24-hour or even 72-hour days, and charges of $90 an hour or more for cleaning desks and filing….

According to records filed with the federal court, individuals at one legal group representing the class, the Law Offices of John Burris in Oakland, billed as much as 72 hours in a single day for document review and, in dozens of instances, billed for 24-hour days.

One of the lead attorneys on the case, Francis Scarpulla of San Francisco, requested fees of $195 an hour for a contract paralegal who was actually paid $30 an hour, the objecting lawyers asserted. The paralegal’s actual rate was redacted from most invoices turned over in the case, but was included, perhaps inadvertently, in a couple of spots.

Clerks and paralegals at another plaintiffs’ firm involved in the litigation, Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann, and Bernstein, of San Francisco, billed between $90 and $195 an hour for services described as “cleaned up desk,” “cleaned up office,” and “filing.” …

The lawyers accused of overstating their hours and expenses responded by strenuously objecting to Judge Armstrong about the public disclosure of their billing records, which the attorneys said were confidential. Last month, the judge ruled that the records should have been filed under seal and she ordered them stricken from the court’s files….

In a brief interview yesterday, Mr. Scarpulla defended the marked-up charges for paralegal work as “common practice” and said all law firms make similar adjustments. “Otherwise, law firms would go broke,” he said. The lawyer said the claims for 72-hour days stemmed from typographical errors. “It was 7.2 hours and the person typing it moved the decimal point,” he said….

A partner at Lieff Cabraser, William Bernstein, called the allegations against his firm “off the mark.” He said he supervised a paralegal who worked fulltime on the cosmetics project and maintained a depository of millions of pages of documents from the cosmetics and retail industries.

“Given the thousands of hours of time put into these cases, someone can always, I’m sure, find some reason to second-guess the billing practices,” Mr. Bernstein said. “That’s why we think the percentage of recovery method is a better way to pay lawyers.”…

(Josh Gerstein, “Quite a Legal Brawl Emerges Over Cosmetics Pricing”, New York Sun, May 3; The Estrin Report, May 5).

One Comment

  • […] Free class-action swag if you bought department store cosmetics between 1994 and 2003; not that they’re giving away the very best stuff or anything [Tompkins/Poynter, California Civil Justice, WSJ Law Blog, settlement site] We’ve been covering the story for quite some time; […]