U.S. Eleventh Circuit - The FindLaw 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Lawyers' Feud Stifles Class Action Settlement

It is an old feud with a new twist.

Bock & Hatch used to share work with Anderson& Wanca against companies that sent out unsolicited faxes. The alliance broke up with bad blood years ago.

In Technology Training Associates v. Buccaneers Limited Partnership, that feud is back in the news. Now the case is more about the lawyers than the litigants.

Bad Blood

The story dates back years ago, when the law firms paired up to pursue class actions against companies that violated federal telemarketing laws. Under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, fax businesses were liable to pay $500 for each unsolicited fax.

In 2011, however, the law firms separated after some embarrassing litigation. Then Judge Richard Posner said Bock & Hatch "demonstrated a lack of integrity that casts serious doubt on their trustworthiness as representatives of the class."

Bock & Hatch later found redemption, but Phillip Bock said he spent a year "digging out of that hole all around the country." Then came the Buccaneers case.

Anderson & Wanca had filed a junk fax class-action against the Buccaneers, when one of the plaintiffs' lawyers left to join Bock & Hatch.

Digging a Hole

Attorney David Oppenheim told Bock that the plaintiffs' lawyers were holding out for a $75 million settlement. Bock saw an opportunity and ran with it.

Bock &Hatch filed a separate class action, went to the opposing counsel and made an offer they couldn't refuse. With a $19.5 million deal on the table, the judge was set to approve it.

Anderson & Wanca sought to intervene, but the judge denied their motion. However, the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals said it appeared Bock Hatch underbid the competition just to collect attorney's fees.

"If, as it appears, Bock Hatch was indeed motivated by a desire to grab attorney's fees instead of a desire to secure the best settlement possible for the class, it violated its ethical duty to the class," the appeals court said.

The Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded. It may take another year -- to settle the case or for the firm to dig out of the hole.

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