In a motion filed Thursday, lawyers in the lead case over the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, sought appointment of five lawyers and retired U.S. District Judge Layn Phillips “in contemplation of the possibility of reaching a settlement with some or all of the defendants.”
Lawyers leading the litigation over the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, have submitted a diverse group of attorneys to serve as settlement counsel, along with a retired judge to oversee the allocation process, should both sides reach a deal to resolve the legal claims.
In a Thursday motion, lead plaintiffs counsel floated the names of five attorneys to serve as settlement counsel for various subclasses of claimants, such as children with personal injuries and businesses with economic losses. They also suggested that retired U.S. District Judge Layn Phillips of the Western District of Oklahoma, who was a mediator in last month’s Equifax data breach settlement, serve as “neutral settlement facilitator.”
In submitting the names, co-lead class counsel Ted Leopold and Michael Pitt said they were filing the motion “in contemplation of the possibility of reaching a settlement with some or all of the defendants.” They said having separate settlement counsel would ensure adequate representation of a disparate group of claimants and avoid the risk that a class action agreement would unravel. A neutral, such as Phillips, would ensure the allocation process was fair, they wrote.
“Here, class counsel propose subclass settlement counsel to serve solely for the limited purpose of negotiating settlement allocation and a distribution plan on behalf of their respective subclass members,” they wrote. At the same time, they wrote, they would continue to move the case forward toward trial.
In Thursday’s motion, Leopold and Pitt acknowledged the challenges in their case. “Many were hurt by the Flint water crisis and their desire for justice cannot be understated,” they wrote. “Yet, as the court is aware, the avenues for recovery in this matter present several challenges.”
Leopold, a partner at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, declined to comment about the motion. The five proposed settlement counsel did not respond to requests for comment. They are Reed Colfax, a partner at Relman, Dane & Colfax; Vincent Ward, a partner at FBD Law; Sarah London, a partner at Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein; Dennis Reich, a partner at Reich & Binstock; and Seth Lesser, founding partner of Klafter Olsen & Lesser.
The submission of settlement counsel is the latest chapter in a case filed in 2017 on behalf of Flint residents with health problems and businesses suffering diminished property values after government officials switched the source of their drinking water. It is one of several cases pending over the Flint water crisis.
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