The settlement discussed in this space July 17 — in which lawyers nabbed more than $25 million in fees and expenses, while fewer than 100 consumers redeemed Ford coupons worth $37,500 — was covered by the Associated Press last week, which stirred outrage in many quarters [Krauss/PoL, Greenfield, Cal Biz Lit]. As Cal Civil Justice notes, the settlement was purportedly on behalf of owners who suffered no rollover or other mishap. Instead, it sought damages for losses in the vehicle’s resale value due to adverse publicity, a nicely circular theory, since the adverse publicity was in good measure propelled by various allies of the plaintiff’s bar. Interestingly, several groups that had opposed the settlement dropped their objections after it was rejiggered to require Ford to provide a $950,000 donation to what are described as nonprofit auto-safety groups (which ones?). Plaintiff’s firm Lieff Cabraser, in a letter to AP, cited that and changes in Ford advertising as reasons why the settlement provided more benefit to the customer class than can be measured by the coupons alone.
- Driver on narcotic painkillers crashes car, lawyer says pharmacists liable [Las Vegas Review-Journal]
- Who’s that cyber-chasing the Buffalo Continental Air crash? Could it be noted San Francisco-based plaintiff’s firm Lieff Cabraser? [Turkewitz]
- Axl Rose no fan of former Guns N’ Roses bandmate or his royalty-seeking attorneys [Reuters]
- Cheese shop owner speaks out against punitive tariff on Roquefort, now due to take effect April 23 [video at Reason “Hit and Run”, earlier]
- Too many cops and too many lawsuits in city schools, says Errol Louis [NY Daily News]
- Law professor and prominent blogger Ann Althouse is getting married — to one of her commenters. Congratulations! [her blog, Greenfield] Kalim Kassam wonders when we can look forward to the Meg Ryan film “You’ve Got Blog Comments”.
- “Louisiana panel recommends paying fees of wrongfully accused Dr. Anna Pou” (charged in deaths of patients during Hurricane Katrina) [NMissCommentor]
- U.K.: “Privacy Group Wants To Shut Down Google Street View” [Mashable]
A company’s donation of air purifiers helped end the legal squabble between the Manhattan neighbors (Feb. 9); smoker Galila Huff has also agreed to use a smokeless ashtray, say Jonathan and Jenny Selbin, the husband-and-wife litigators. Jonathan Selbin, of Lieff Cabraser, evidently feels much put upon by press accounts linking his name with the epithet “bully”; one of Selbin’s earlier letters to Huff observed, “As you may not be aware, we are both lawyers and both litigators, for whom the usual barriers to litigation are minimal.” (Anemona Hartocollis, New York Times, Apr. 7; Greenfield, Apr. 6; WSJ letter to the editor, Apr. 8).
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….
Law.com’s The Recorder reports that some in the plaintiff’s bar are understandably upset that Google’s ad program placed their firms’ ads on the lurid site discussed in this space Nov. 15 and Nov. 18. “The ‘million dollars’ site ‘is patently sleazy, but the question is whether it violates the ethics rules,’ said Richard Zitrin, an ethics specialist and partner with Zitrin & Mastromonaco who advises plaintiff firms. ‘I think it’s unethical. And I’m a free-speechist on this.'” Lawyers with Lieff Cabraser and Schneider & Wallace also deemed the site unethical. Others, as in earlier rounds of the brouhaha, complained that too much attention was being paid to the page, including a mention by Sen. Orrin Hatch at a Senate hearing. (Justin Scheck, “Vioxx Web Site Has Law Firms Outraged”, The Recorder, Nov. 30). And in a dispatch a week later, the same reporter found that law-firm ads had been removed from the site and replaced with public service ads (“Controversial Web Site Drops Lawyer Ads”, Dec. 6).
More: David Giacalone, guestblogging at RiskProf, has news of more developments, including a substantial rewrite of the site (Dec. 26).
Unlike his running mate John Edwards, John Kerry has willingly disclosed the identities of his “bundlers”, the financiers responsible for raising large amounts of money in grouped donations. (He has 266 who’ve come in at the $100,000+ level, compared with more than 525 for George W. Bush.) Names familiar to readers of this site are well represented: “Trial lawyers who represent injured people in suits against business are prominent Kerry fans. Among his $100,000 Vice Chairmen are Florida plaintiff’s lawyer Kirk Wager, who hosted Mr. Kerry’s first presidential fund-raiser at his Coconut Grove home in December 2002, and attorneys Richard Scruggs of Mississippi and John Coale of Washington, both part of the tobacco companies’ $206 billion settlement with 46 states.” However, Mr. Kerry (like Mr. Bush, but unlike Mr. Edwards) also raises large amounts from other types of law firms, including firms known for lobbying and for general business work, including Mintz Levin and Piper Rudnick. (Wayne Slater, “Vested interests in Kerry”, Dallas Morning News, Jul. 25).
“Lawyers, especially trial lawyers, are the engine of the Kerry fundraising operation,” reports the Washington Post. “Lawyers and law firms have given more money to Kerry, $12 million, than any other sector. One out of four of Kerry’s big-dollar fundraisers is a lawyer, and one out of 10 is an attorney for plaintiffs in personal injury, medical malpractice or other lawsuits seeking damages. …
“Among the trial lawyers who raised money for Kerry early in the campaign were Michael V. Ciresi of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi LLP, who represented Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota in its successful $6.5 billion suit against the tobacco industry, and Michael T. Thorsnes, who recently retired from his San Diego law firm after winning $250 million in settlements and verdicts.” After Kerry locked up the race, “One trend was a sharp increase in the number of trial lawyers joining the Kerry fundraising campaign. Among those soon joining as major fundraisers were John P. Coale, one of the nation’s most prominent trial lawyers, whose better-known cases include the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, India, and at least 16 plane crashes; Robert L. Lieff, founding partner of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP, a San Francisco-based firm that lists four class-action settlements in 2004 alone totaling $176.5 million; and San Francisco lawyer Arnold Laub, whose firm Web site lists its participation in the $3.7 billion fen-phen settlement, a $185 million toxic chemical award and $4.5 million for a pedestrian accident case. … John Morgan, an Orlando lawyer whose firm specializes in medical malpractice, said he has helped raise more than $500,000 for Kerry.” (Thomas B. Edsall, James V. Grimaldi and Alice R. Crites, “Redefining Democratic Fundraising”, Washington Post, Jul. 24)(our politics archive).
Class-actioneers Michael Hausfeld and Stanley Chesley, already in line to collect $10.5 million in fees under Microsoft’s settlement of one of its antitrust cases filed in federal court, “say they are entitled to share in $50 million for helping lay the groundwork for the state claims [filed by other law firms].” Hausfeld and Chesley say many lawyers who filed state claims were happy to rely on the work they did in advancing the federal case, but “‘Memories are short and gratitude fleeting when attorneys’ fees are at issue.’ … In a reply brief, the law firms of Milberg, Weiss and Lieff, Cabraser, and Kirby, McInerney & Squire argue that assistance provided by Hausfeld and Chesley ‘was spotty and sometimes non-existent.’ ‘To put it most charitably, rather than being a resource to various state court counsel throughout these proceedings, Hausfeld-Chesley looked out for their own clients (and fees) in their own cases, which of course is completely proper,’ the lawyers in the state cases replied. ‘Such behavior, however, does not give rise to an entitlement for fees for other plaintiffs in other cases.'” (James Rowley, “Legal-fee fight erupts over Microsoft case”, Bloomberg/Seattle Times, Jan. 7)
“The latest settlement in litigation over California’s energy crisis includes tens of millions of dollars in attorney fees to be shared by a handful of politically savvy plaintiffs’ firms. … Besides Lieff Cabraser, private firms that will collect a share of the fees include Kiesel, Boucher & Larson of Beverly Hills, Calif., and Girardi & Keese; Engstrom, Lipscomb & Lack; and O’Donnell & Shaeffer, all of Los Angeles. ” (Jeff Chorney, “Powerful Payday”, The Recorder, Jul. 8).