I read this recent opinion from the Fifth Circuit about a fee allocation among plaintiffs’ counsel in a class acton settlement. The case was of interest to me because it involves Don Barrett, of tobacco litigation and Scruggs(less) Katrina Group fame, and if you remember, a fee dispute among Scruggs Katrina Group firms is what touched off the Judge Lackey bribery plot allegedly involving Dickie Scruggs. In addition, the ethics of the Katrina Litigation Group, as it is now known, are being challenged by State Farm in several Katrina cases. Here’s one of the latest posts that has information about that.
Finally, I was interested because of the fact the opinion was written by Chief Judge Edith Jones, who chewed out Dickie Scruggs last year during oral argument in the Leonard v. Nationwide appeal, and who had a sharp exchange with William Walker, counsel for the policyholders, during oral argument last year in the Broussard v. State Farm appeal. In short, no matter who you are, Judge Jones is the toughest kid on the block.
She proved it again in this case, vacating a district court’s approval of an attorney fee allocation where Barrett, one of the co-lead counsel, went to an ex parte hearing with the district court judge and got approved a fee allocation that Judge Jones strongly suggested — or perhaps outright said — was based on misinformation and selective use of evidence. Here’s the opinion’s opening summary, which gives you a pretty good idea of what is going on in the case:
Lead Plaintiffs’ Counsel in this class action persuaded the district court to divide up a $6.875 million lump sum attorneys’ fee award among more than six dozen plainttiffs’ lawyers accourding to Lead Counsel’s proposed allocation. This might be permissible, except that the court was so persuaded in an ex parte hearing and apparently without benefit of supporting data. The Court further accepted the Lead Counsel’s proposed order sealing the individual awards; preventing all counsel from communicating with anyone about the awards; requiring releases from counsel who accepted payment; and limiting its own scope of review of objections to the allocation. These and other facets of the court’s process are unauthorized and objectionable. . . .
I’m not saying this case has anything to do with anything. I’m just sayin’.
— An interesting story by John O’Brien of Legal Newsline about bloggers and the Scruggs scandal. I should have gotten back to John and spent more time answering questions about this, but this last couple weeks has been very crazy for me, not a lot of extra time.
Anyone reading these words today probably has some idea about the place of blogs in the Scruggs events, you don’t need me to say it. I’ve probably helped shine the spotlight in some places that needed it. But I try to guard against letting myself fall prey to blogger triumphalism or feeling self-important. I just try to provide the best analysis I can, the best writing I can, the best entertainment I can, and have fun doing it. I grew up in North Dakota, and NoDaks believe in staying within themselves.
I don’t get too caught up in how many people are reading my blog or any of that — mostly I think sitemeters tremendously exaggerate a blog’s audience to make bloggers feel better about themselves. I know a lot of people read this site, how many exactly I don’t know and I really don’t care, it’s quite a few. What is more important and always has been is whether I am reaching the kind of people I want to, and I have been very fortunate in being able to do so. When it comes right down to it, this blog is part of the marketing I do as a lawyer, and I’ve made a lot of friends, met a lot of great people. Some of them are like family to me. And you folks in Mississippi, I’ve got to say, nicest bunch of people in the world. You have been very good to me, I look forward to seeing as many of y’all as I can when I come to Mississippi in April for the Mississippi State Insurance Day. I know I won’t see all of y’all, but as many as I can.
— Finally, and this is unpleasant to do but necessary, and I think necessary to do publicly to reinforce community norms. To the person yesterday who spammed me with a whole bunch of comments, the first few of which I was willing to tolerate and publish in the interest of broad-mindedness, but which became increasingly Yosemite Sam-like, pointless and abusive to such a degree I won’t allow them to be published, I have this to say: you are banned from my site for a period of time that is indeterminate, but which in all likelihood will extend beyond infinity. As I understand it, other sites may have had some difficulties with you as well. If all you can talk is guff, go start your own blog and talk it to yourself.