(Reuters) - Chicago law firm Loevy & Loevy has accused one of its former lawyers of trying to force it out of a class action lawsuit against facial recognition startup Clearview AI Inc just as a potentially lucrative settlement may be in the works.
The Loevy firm on Saturday told U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman that Scott Drury, a former Illinois state representative who was an associate at the firm until last month, had gone behind its back to steal its clients.
It asked Johnson Coleman to affirm that it is class counsel in the case and not Drury, who has launched his own firm Drury Legal.
The plaintiffs, a group of Illinois residents, claim Clearview violated a state privacy law restricting the collection of biometric data like fingerprints or retinal scans by secretly scraping three billion pictures of facial images from the internet and collecting and selling the data without consent. Clearview has denied misconduct.
Loevy & Loevy claims that Drury secretly met with an attorney for the Clearview defendants in July 2022 to discuss a settlement framework. The firm said it did not learn about the settlement talks until Drury quit and demanded it leave the case.
"Mr. Drury is obviously under the impression that if he can fire L&L and keep any financial recovery for himself, he will maximize his personal economic stake," Loevy & Loevy said in its Saturday filing.
Drury in a statement said he strongly disputed his former firm's assertions, adding that his reply, which is due Nov. 1., "will rebut the motion and set the record straight."
Attorneys for the Loevy firm filed a series of withdrawal notices from the case on Oct. 4. But the firm said those withdrawals were orchestrated by Drury, who abruptly left Loevy & Loevy on Sept. 23 and claimed he was taking all of its Clearview plaintiffs with him.
The Loevy firm said Drury's withdrawal demand came as many of its attorneys were preparing for a trial against railway giant BNSF Railway Co. A federal jury earlier this month ordered BNSF to pay $228 million in that case for violating the same privacy law at issue in the Clearview class action.
Loevy & Loevy pointed to that verdict on Saturday and said the Clearview class should be represented by a firm that "can win these trials."
The firm said it had asked Drury if it could wait until after the BNSF trial to respond to his withdrawal demand, but Drury threatened to pursue sanctions against Loevy for allegedly refusing its clients' wishes.
"Upon further review, it is hardly clear that Mr. Drury's gambit in having clients 'fire' L&L was even legally valid. The court has already appointed L&L. Clients cannot override court orders," the firm said.
Drury joined Loevy & Loevy in 2019 to lead its newly founded privacy practice. He served for six years as an Illinois state representative and mounted a failed campaign for Illinois attorney general in 2018.
Lee Wolosky, a co-chair of Jenner & Block's litigation department who is representing Clearview and other co-defendants, declined to comment. Attorneys for Macy's Inc, another defendant, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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