Seeking to defend himself against accusations he and his associates have behaved as extortionists by allegedly using objections to class action settlements to wring six-figure payments from others seeking to close deals, attorney Christopher Bandas fired back, saying the lawyers pressing the action against him and his associates are the rogue agents, engaging in “dirty tricks to intimidate and ward off” all who “stand in the… way” of their million dollar paydays.
On Dec. 3, an attorney for Bandas and his firm, the Bandas Law Firm P.C., of Corpus Christi, filed a counterclaim in Chicago federal court to the racketeering lawsuit brought last year by Chicago trial law firm, Edelson P.C.
“The Defendants (Edelson), have a tremendous incentive to beat down, villainize, and intimidate any class member, regardless of the fact that the Defendants represent those individuals, should they stand in the Defendants’ way of collecting truly outrageous sums of money as so-called attorney’s fees,” Bandas asserted in the counterclaim. “Indeed, as occurred here, the Defendants had a tremendous incentive to distract the Illinois Circuit Court as well as this Court with false and exaggerated claims … to detract from the truly grotesque windfall they sought to protect.”
Specifically, Bandas accused the Edelson firm of misleading him and others into a “mediation trap” that he asserts should have been protected by a confidentiality agreement, specifically for the purpose of later filing their racketeering lawsuit and other claims against Bandas.
The counterclaim, filed on behalf of Bandas by attorney Darren M. VanPuymbrouck, of the firm of Falkenberg Ives LLP, of Chicago, specifically accuses the Edelson lawyers of fraud, conspiracy and breach of a confidentiality agreement.
The counterclaim came as part of Bandas’ reply to Edelson’s lawsuit, which accuses Bandas of racketeering by routinely filing what are described as baseless objections to class action settlements, and then offering to withdraw those objections in exchange for sizable payoffs.
The Edelson claims and Bandas counterclaims come as the firms continue a multi-jurisdictional feud dating back to 2016, centered on a $13.8 million settlement the Edelson firm had secured in a class action against Gannett Co. over alleged violations of the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act.
Cook County Judge Kathleen Kennedy approved that settlement, and also awarded the Edelson firm more than $5.3 million in attorney fees, or about 39 percent of the total settlement funds.
However, before the settlement was finalized, attorney Jeffrey C. Thut, acting as local counsel in partnership with Bandas, filed an objection on behalf of Gary Stewart, of Cardiff, Calif. In the objection, Stewart asserted the Edelson firm was getting paid too much in the settlement.
In that case, Kennedy dismissed Stewart’s objections. However, with an appeal still possible, Edelson and Bandas entered a mediation session to resolve the matter. Edelson asserted they ultimately agreed to pay Stewart and his counsel $225,000.
However, Edelson followed that mediation session with their racketeering action in federal court, and also asked the Cook County judge to sanction Bandas, Thut and Stewart. Cook County Judge Pamela Meyerson blocked the sanctions, but found Stewart in contempt for failing to appear at a hearing.
After Stewart appealed, a three-justice panel of the Illinois First District Appellate Court sided with Edelson, overturning Judge Meyerson’s decision to dismiss the sanctions request and ordered a new hearing at which Edelson lawyers would be allowed to present evidence against Bandas and Thut for their alleged conduct in the Gannett settlement process. In that decision, the appellate justices noted Bandas and Thut had engaged in a “fraud on the court.”
Shortly after the Illinois appellate decision, Bandas filed his counterclaims, asserting the Edelson firm had misrepresented the circumstances surrounding the mediation session. Bandas claimed the mediation was actually Edelson’s idea, as part of a trap laid to set the stage for the racketeering suit.
Bandas said Edelson lawyers also violated a confidentiality contract when they publicized the events and results surrounding the mediation.
Bandas asserted Edelson did so to protect their $5.3 million fees in the Gannett case.
In the counterclaim, they described the Edelson firm as “among the most notorious and prolific serial class action litigators in the United States who focus on exploiting dubious, lightweight TCPA cases.”
They said Edelson lawyers use the lawsuits to “extort money from companies almost exclusively for (their) personal gain,” while “duping” clients on the amount of fees Edelson could receive, while “leaving such consumers with little, if any value.”
In the Gannett case, in particular, Bandas asserted Edelson “sought to jam through a dubious settlement so that (they) could extort $5.38 million in fees for themselves without revealing that they invested so little time and costs on behalf of the class that such a payment would be a grotesque windfall to Defendants, while leaving their clients with less than $175 each,” Bandas wrote in the counterclaim.
The said the racketeering claims were part of an effort by Edelson to silence Stewart’s objection.
“Defendants (Edelson) pulled out all of the stops and opened their bag of dirty tricks to intimidate and ward off Mr. Stewart,” Bandas’ counterclaim asserts.