A Texas lawyer embroiled in a racketeering action accusing him and others of being “serial objectors” out to simply claim a chunk of others’ negotiated class action settlements has inserted himself into another massive class action deal, asking a federal judge to award him money for representing an organization whose objection to the attorney fee request in a $56 million deal to end a class action against a cruise line, phone poll operator and timeshare company, helped reduce other attorneys’ multi-million dollar payday.
On April 19, attorney Christopher Bandas, along with attorney Robert W. Clore of Bandas’ Corpus Christi, Texas, firm, and attorney Jonathan Novoselsky, of Chicago, filed a motion in Chicago federal court, asking the court to grant them a $59,000 cut of a settlement fund of potentially as much as $76 million established to end the litigation against Caribbean Cruise Line, timeshare seller the Berkley Group and phone polling outfit Economic Strategy Group.
U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly signed off on that settlement agreement in March.
The underlying action in the case had alleged the cruise line and other co-defendants had worked together to mask telemarketing calls as political polling calls to skirt the requirements of the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Poll participants were told they could be eligible for a “free cruise” to The Bahamas, and were connected with representatives of the cruise line and timeshare sellers at the end of the polling call.
The settlement is considered the largest such settlement under the TCPA ever secured.
As part of the settlement, attorneys from the Chicago firms of Edelson P.C. and Loevy & Loevy requested fees of nearly $24 million.
The defendants objected to that request, along with a potential class member organization, identified as Freedom Home Care Inc., saying the attorneys had asked for too large a share of the settlement fund.
Ultimately, the judge sided partially with the objectors, approving a sliding scale, tiered formula to calculate what he held to be the proper amount of money the plaintiffs’ lawyers should receive, arriving at a total of about $15 million. However, the judge said the total could climb to nearly $19 million, depending on how many eligible class members submitted valid claims under the settlement.
In their April 19 filing, Bandas and the other objector lawyers said they deserved the lion’s share of the credit for the fee reduction, which they said freed up more money for the plaintiffs class claimants.
“Significantly, Freedom Home Care was the only litigant to propose the correct fee methodology for this large TCPA settlement - a diminishing sliding scale applied to the whole fund (including attorneys fees, but excluding administration and notice costs),” Bandas wrote in his motion.
He argued the defendants subsequent objections argued for “a dramatically inaccurate and never before applied approach omitting attorneys’ fees from the gross figure in calculating the percentages,” which the court did not apply, opting instead for the method endorsed under the Freedom Home Care objection.
“The result is class counsel take approximately $3-$6 million less than they sought from the class members’ fund,” Bandas wrote. “Freedom Home Care’s (sic) played an important role in limiting class counsels’ fees to a more reasonable sum for the benefit of the class, and should be rewarded accordingly.”
The motion also asked the judge to award Freedom Home Care $1,000 for its role as the formal objector.
The motion comes at the same time Bandas and the Edelson firm are locked in litigation also pending in Chicago federal court.
In that case, Edelson has accused Bandas and others of engaging in racketeering, by repeatedly representing purported objectors to various class action settlements, simply to gain leverage to extract payoffs from Edelson and other class action trial lawyer firms. Specifically, Edelson has accused Bandas and others associated with him of filing objections to the settlements to either negotiate a separate deal for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, or threaten appeals, followed by an offer to withdraw any appeals if the class action lawyers pay them to go away.
Bandas has asked a federal judge to dismiss the suit, claiming legal precedent has established that filing lawsuits or other legal actions cannot be considered the basis for a racketeering lawsuit. Bandas said, if the courts allow Edelson to move forward with their racketeering action, it could inspire a flood of similar racketeering-themed countersuits from others against anyone who objects to class action settlements.