January 17, 2017 / 10:26 PM / 3 years ago

Lieff Cabraser claims noted serial-objecting lawyer may have broken Georgia law

(Reuters) - Christopher Bandas of the Bandas Law Firm has had enough of class action lawyers sullying his name. “I just can’t bite my tongue anymore,” Bandas told me Tuesday, in the first interview he has granted to me. “I’ve seen too much scurrilous stuff coming from class counsel.”

If you follow class actions, you’ve probably heard of Bandas. He’s one of the most famous of the lawyers who regularly represent objectors to class action settlements, and perhaps the most notorious bane of the plaintiffs’ class action bar, which often accuses Bandas of filing ill-founded objections to proposed class action settlements, then demanding big-money payments to clear those obstacles.

Last month, for instance, the plaintiffs' firm Edelson went so far as to sue Bandas for racketeering, alleging that he demanded at least $225,000 to drop an objection to Edelson’s $13.8 million settlement of a robocalling class action against Gannett. Bandas said the Edelson complaint was “wrong on the law (and) patently frivolous….No court in the country has ever supported (Edelson’s) very specious position.”

Now the class action firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein has claimed that Bandas violated a Georgia law against representing a client without court authorization. In a brief filed Monday in federal court in Atlanta, Lieff asserted that Bandas contracted to provide a panoply of services to Wanda Yde in connection with Yde’s objection to a proposed $16.4 million Telephone Consumer Protection Act settlement with Wells Fargo but deceptively portrayed Yde as a pro se objector.

Yde’s objection explicitly disclosed that she is represented by Bandas and that he advised her on the pro se filing, which challenges class counsel’s request for nearly $5 million in fees and costs. But according to Lieff Cabraser, which is class counsel in the Wells case, the objector’s disclosure didn’t adequately reveal the broad scope of Bandas’ agreement with Yde, which, for example, gave Bandas control over appellate decisions about the case.

Moreover, Lieff’s brief said, Bandas had a motive to downplay his involvement: Yde herself is a former employee at Bandas’ firm and her mother is Bandas’ longtime legal assistant. According to Lieff Cabraser, Yde’s testimony at a Jan. 14 deposition revealed that she hardly even reviewed her contract with Bandas or the objection his firm prepared on her behalf, placing trust in her mother and former employer. Bandas’ retainer agreement with Yde, which Lieff filed as an exhibit to the transcript of Yde’s deposition, includes a provision restricting Yde’s incentive award or payment to $5,000.

Yde’s personal ties to Bandas, as well as the “carte blanche authority” she granted him in her retainer agreement, “suggest that she is merely an instrument of Bandas’ purposes, not someone objecting in her own right,” Lieff Cabraser’s filing said. Bandas’ failure to sign Yde’s objection and acknowledge his role is “a transparent, calculated tactic to evade this Court’s jurisdiction.”

Lieff’s brief was filed as a reply in support of the firm’s motion to strike Yde’s objection. At a hearing Tuesday on final approval for the TCPA settlement, the firm said it would withdraw the motion to strike in light of Bandas’ application for admission pro hac vice in the Wells case. Bandas’ lawyer, Jerome Froelich of McKenney & Froelich, said the flap is “over for now.” I do, however, expect Lieff to refile its allegations against Bandas in a different form, perhaps a show cause order.

Bandas told me he has come to expect to be lacerated by class counsel. Lieff, in particular, “likes to throw a lot of mud against the wall, then, when they see we’re right, walk away,” Bandas said. He and Froelich said Bandas is on high ground in the Wells Fargo case. Despite Lieff Cabraser’s deployment of the word “ghostwriting” to describe Bandas’ role in drafting Yde’s objection, the filing clearly says Bandas is Yde’s counsel. In his response to Lieff Cabraser’s original motion to strike Yde’s objection, Bandas and his lawyer cited a 2007 American Bar Association ethics opinion and Georgia precedent allowing lawyers to counsel pro se plaintiffs as long as the lawyers reveal their involvement, which Bandas did. “When you disclose your involvement, it’s the antithesis of ghostwriting,” Bandas said.

I asked why he didn’t just sign Yde’s original objection and request pro hac vice admission. Bandas said he would have had to find local counsel to do so and didn’t want to incur expenses for Yde. What about the retainer contract provision limiting the objector’s payment to $5,000? Plaintiffs’ lawyers from Lieff, Edelson and the Competitive Enterprise Institute have previously claimed Bandas requests hundreds of thousands of dollars to drop objections and allow class actions to conclude. Bandas said he cannot comment on previous settlements but set the potential award for Yde at $5,000 because that is considered a reasonable incentive for class representatives. In the Wells case, he pointed out, class reps have requested $20,000 apiece.

Bandas said class counsel accounts of his conduct shouldn’t be trusted. He said, for instance, that in the class action at the heart of the Edelson racketeering suit, it was Edelson – and not Bandas – that pushed for a settlement of his objection. “That’s how they do it – they approach us with money and then they change the narrative,” Bandas said. “I assure you that almost everything you hear from class counsel is skewed to their advantage.”

Bandas said he’s a big backer of a proposed change in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that would require judges to sign off on class counsel payments to objectors or their lawyers. If the rule change is adopted, Bandas said, class counsel won’t be able to accuse him of attempting to extract payments in exchange for dropping objections.

“This will let the court know when they try to throw money at a problem,” Bandas said.

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