Victory in the W.D. Washington: Classmates.com
When attorneys affiliated with CCAF first objected on behalf of Professor Michael Krauss in the Classmates.com settlement, that case paid $52,000 to class members and over a million dollars to the attorneys and the class representatives (while falsely characterizing it as a $9.5 million settlement); Gregg Easterbrook of ESPN called it the worst class action settlement of the year. We objected, and the court struck down the settlement. The parties went back to the drawing board without including us in the process, and they came back with a settlement that guaranteed $2.5 million for class members, while still paying the attorneys over a million dollars. The settlement, as we pointed out in a second objection, still overpaid the attorneys and had Bluetooth reversion problems to boot: any fee reduction, notwithstanding clear sailing, would go to the defendant rather than the class. The parties quickly eliminated the kicker: now any fee reduction would go to the class, and the judge agreed with us at the fairness hearing that there should be a fee reduction.
Given that we had won over $2 million for the class, we thought we might be entitled to a token fee award; given our non-profit status, we planned to ask for something in the $40,000 to $50,000 range, reflecting both the benefit to the class and a sub-lodestar amount for multiple rounds of briefing, two trips to Seattle for fairness hearings, and the cost of hiring local counsel. But before we even put pen to paper on the fee request briefing, class counsel retaliated against us for our success in objecting by hitting us with super-burdensome fishing-expedition subpoenas, on, inter alia, a conspiracy theory of cross-referencing our donors with donors to institutions where Professor Krauss had performed work, such that someone paid Cato ten years ago to have Krauss write a paper so that he would successfully object ten years later represented by attorneys affiliated with CCAF to a settlement of a lawsuit against a company that didn’t even exist yet. (Dozens of class members contacted us about this bad settlement. As we were figuring out who would be the best objector, Professor Krauss contacted us, and we agreed to represent him within minutes because he taught legal ethics, which added a modicum of ethos to our objection.) We were already overextended with appellate briefing schedules, so we had a choice: we could spend tens of thousands of dollars on outside counsel to resist facially invalid subpoenas requiring a response over the Christmas holidays, and be faced with an additional discovery bill of tens of thousands of dollars if we lost (and thus be put in a position where we might be worse off for requesting fees) or drop the fee request rather than prejudice our other clients. Professor Krauss was generous enough to give us permission to drop the fee request, and we did so. But we asked the court to award sanctions against class counsel on behalf of the class for the abuse of the discovery process to deter future abuses against objectors.
The court did so, deducting $100,000 from the class counsel’s fee request and awarding it to the class. So if you’re keeping score, class counsel tried to abuse the discovery process to prevent us from collecting a $40,000 fee, and ended up costing themselves $100,000 (plus whatever attorney time they wasted having to defend themselves in the sanctions motion and on their own discovery) in the process. The class will get $2.753 million in cash instead of $0.052 million in cash. The opinion by Judge Richard Jones generously praises us for being the attorneys most interested in class recovery. Congratulations to our patient client, Professor Krauss, and to attorney Dan Greenberg, who argued at the second fairness hearing.