Lawyers of Black Farmers Will Collect $90M in Fees

     (CN) – Lawyers who made the government pay $1.25 billion to settle claims that it discriminated against black farmers can recoup $90.8 million in fees, a federal judge ruled.
     The settlement class in this case had missed the deadline to submit claims in the Pigford v. Glickman consent decree from 1999. They claimed that U.S. Department of Agriculture officers were racially motivated when they denied benefits to black applicants and ignored their complaints from January 1983 to January 1997.
     In the $1.25 billion agreement that U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman approved in 2011, attorneys for the farmers can collect between 4.1 percent and 7.4 percent of the settlement funds after the deduction of implementation costs.
     While the attorneys sought the highest amount possible to cover costs and fees, the government urged the court to stick to the lower percentage.
     Lauding the efforts of the farmers’ representatives, Friedman granted the maximum award of $90.8 million on Thursday.
     “All told, class counsel’s adept negotiation of the settlement agreement dramatically benefitted the class by ensuring that a greater number of plaintiffs likely will prevail on their claims than otherwise, that these claims will be resolved and payments issued in a timely manner, and that adequate funding will exist to provide meaningful compensation to each successful plaintiff,” the 33-page opinion states.
     Friedman noted that few class members challenged the fee range provided for in the settlement.
     “Out of a class comprising tens of thousands of plaintiffs – each holding a potential stake of $50,000 or more in this litigation (that being the minimum payment to which successful Pigford plaintiffs were entitled) – only 25 individuals filed objections to the proposed settlement agreement (including its range of 4.1 percent to 7.4 percent in attorneys’ fees) or to class counsel’s request for a 7.4 percent fee award,” the opinion states (parentheses in original). “And among this relatively small group, many of the ostensible objections actually expressed no real disagreement with the terms of the settlement agreement (including the attorneys’ fees provision), while others were submitted by individuals who were not class members and therefore had no right to object to either the settlement agreement or class counsel’s motion for a fee award.”
     In representing the farmers, the attorneys dealt with a complicated process of settling with the government and carrying out the claims resolution process, while unsure of what they would receive in return for the time-consuming work, according to the opinion.
     “Class counsel have undertaken the immense challenge presented by this action with the utmost professionalism and integrity, exhibiting skill, diligence, and efficiency in all aspects of their duties,” Friedman concluded.
     Distribution of the award is set to take place when the farmers receive payment for their claims.

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