The Knucklehead of the Day award
Today's winner is U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle. He gets the award for the following.
A judge ordering lawyers to violate state ethics rules. Is our justice system totally upside down or just corrupt? Louisiana has a long history of the later, so I wouldn't it easily in this judge's case. In addition the public has the right to know the settlement details. Justice done in secret is not justice at all.
The judge in a 2004 federal class action lawsuit over fuel gauge damage caused by tainted gasoline made at Shell-Motiva refinery in Norco has sealed records on how he divided $6.8 million in legal fees among 79 lawyers in the case.
U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle has ordered each lawyer, on pain of being sanctioned, not to reveal how much they were paid.
Lemelle's late January decision to keep the information under wraps has drawn criticism from some of the lawyers and has attracted the attention of Loyola Law School ethics professor Dane Ciolino.
Ciolino says the situation violates the right of the lawyers and the public to have access to court records. Additionally, he said, it flies in the face of a Louisiana attorney ethics rule that says a client is entitled to know how his lawyer shares fees with other lawyers.
Ciolino has asked Lemelle to lift the seal on details of the lawyers' fees.
Lemelle, who is considering the request, did not return a call seeking comment.
The fee controversy caps a case brought on behalf of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida residents whose fuel gauges broke after they bought Shell Oil Co. gasoline containing too much sulfur over several weeks starting in May 2004.
Soon after the problem emerged, Shell volunteered to fix broken gauges in tens of thousands of vehicles at a cost of $200 to $1,000 each, depending on the car model. By September 2004, Shell had processed about 81,000 claims, meaning the firm by that time could have spent tens of millions on the repairs.
After spirited negotiations, attorneys for both sides reached a settlement that called for Shell to expand the repair program and provide $3.7 million to cover general damages, such as lost wages, for plaintiffs who filed repair claims. The settlement limited individual payments for general damages to $150 and $300 for lost wages.
The settlement also called for Shell to provide $6.875 million to cover attorneys' fees, costs and expenses, $2,000 for each class representative and $400 for each named plaintiff.
Update- On Monday Judge Lemelle refused to unseal the records.
For abusing his judicial powers, U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle is today's Knucklehead of the Day.
Hat tip- Overlawyered
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