Monday, November 10, 2008

Pigford: Lawyers at the Trough

A federal judge is unhappy, again, about how aggressive lawyers -- imagine that! -- are scrambling for a piece of a multi-hundred million dollar settlement with aggrieved African-American farmers.

The settlement in the so-called Pigford litigation was supposed to compensate African-American farmers who faced Agriculture Department discrimination. After the original filing deadline passed, Congress then allowed some 63,000 additional African-American farmers to seek payments of $55,000 each. Separately, the farmers' lawyers were then supposed to get attorney's fees -- but U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman noted at a recent status conference:
I’ve seen the Web sites of some of the law firms, and I don’t like them. I don’t like people saying it’s going to cost you a third of your relief, whatever I get for you, or 20 percent of your relief, whatever I get for you, because that’s not what Congress had in mind."

That's not all. Friedman has expressly warned about the "reasonableness and transparency" of the attorneys' fee agreements; colloquially speaking, some farmers might be getting ripped off. On Friday, Nov. 14, Friedman has summoned the attorneys for a status conference to try to fix things.

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