BOSTON (Legal Newsline) - The public might not get to view the findings of a special master tasked with examining why a $300 million class action settlement included inflated hourly rates and a suspicious $200,000 payment to a public defender who is the brother of one of the lead plaintiffs lawyers.
The report from retired Judge Gerald E. Rosen in the securities class action against State Street Bank and Trust probably won’t paint the Thornton Law Firm and other firms that divvied $75 million in fees in a favorable light. Their practices were uncovered by the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team in 2016.
Rosen, appointed as a special master by U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf of Boston, earlier this year asked for more time to prepare his report, which apparently includes an unfavorable opinion of the plaintiffs lawyers from NYU Law School ethics expert Stephen Gillers.
But Rosen on May 14 asked Wolf to enter his report and recommendations under seal. His brief motion also asks that the exhibits and evidence compiled to not be available to the public.
The Center for Class Action Fairness, which has sought to intervene in the case as either a friend of the court or as a guardian for the interests of class members, says it opposes the report being filed under seal.
The Boston Globe articles detailed practices that are widespread in class actions, in which plaintiff lawyers spread their court-approved fees among a wide collection of firms, stating hourly rates of $400 or more for the services of contract attorneys who are paid as little as $20 an hour.
Other firms working on the case included Labaton Sucharow and Lieff Cabraser. The Boston Globe articles revealed how several lawyers were reported to the court as having worked for Thornton and Labaton simultaneously, which the firms have dismissed as a mistake.
The firms have objected to the analysis from Gillers of their fee-sharing practices, calling them “novel.”
“We of course do not agree with that characterization,” Rosen wrote earlier this year.
The articles also revealed that the Thornton firm, recently cleared in a campaign finance investigation, allowed Michael Bradley, the brother of Thornton partner Garrett Bradley, to bill more than 400 hours to the class at $500 an hour when his normal practice is serving as a public defender for a tenth of that hourly rate.
The Globe articles showed that Garrett Bradley listed 24 staff attorneys with hourly rates of $425, a total of $4 million in costs. One of the lawyers said he was paid an hourly rate of only $30, and 23 were found to be listed as lawyers for the other firms working on the case.