Latest Legal News: The Newest Model Toyota Lawsuit Is RICO

A daily look at legal news and the business of law:

RICO: It's Not Just for Mobsters Anymore
Plaintiff Attorney Stanley Chesley unveiled a new model in Toyota lawsuits: a Racketeering-Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO) claim against four Toyota Motor Corp. (TM) units. The core claim is that the four divisions, acting as an organized enterprise, perpetrated a "scheme to sell dangerous and defective vehicles." RICO was passed in 1970 to destroy the mob. However, nowadays it's hardly ever used that way. Because of procedural hurdles created by the courts in the 1990s, RICO cases are hard to prove, though that doesn't stop them from being filed. Nonetheless, if a RICO suit is won, the impact is powerful: Plaintiffs can get treble damages, plus attorneys fees.Daimler Tentatively Pleads Guilty to Bribery
In yet another Foreign Corrupt Practices Act case, Daimler (DAI) has reportedly agreed to pay a $200 million penalty and have two subdivisions plead guilty to charges. However, until the judge approves the deal, details aren't known, and the Department of Justice isn't talking.

Judge Tells Jury Not to Bother, and Acquits Stanford Document Shredders Himself
While most people know that prosecutors must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, few realize that a judge can be so unimpressed with the prosecutors' case that he simply orders acquittal. In truth, it rarely happens because prosecutors generally won't try a case if the evidence is that weak. Nonetheless, a day and a half into the jury's deliberations, Senior Judge Richard Goldberg ordered acquittal of two people accused of obstructing the Security and Exchange Commission's (SEC) investigation of alleged Ponzi schemer ex-Sir Allen Stanford by shredding relevant documents. Happily for the SEC, all the documents were also stored on computers at Stanford's company.

Lawyers Getting Paid, and Getting Stiffed
Big firm bankruptcy practices have been unsurprisingly busy of late, but the fact that bankruptcy clients can afford to pay about $17/minute--$1,000/hour for counsel's time? That's a bit surprising.

The $49 million settlement of an antitrust suit against BAR/BRI and Kaplan test prep affects many now and would-be lawyers who paid inflated fees for Bar and LSAT test prep once the two companies conspired to stay out of each other's turf. But the latest settlement twist targets only McGuireWoods, plaintiffs' counsel. The judge just eliminated their $12 million fee, transforming the case from lucrative to pro bono.

Responding to the Ninth Circuit's guidance, the judge voided the fee because the attorneys allegedly had a conflict of interest. Agreements the attorneys had made with the lead plaintiffs meant the lead plaintiffs arguably had less incentive to hold out for a big settlement once the settlement reached $10 million, whereas the rest of the class simply wanted the most money possible. Given that the case settled for nearly five times $10 million, and the agreements related to incentive payments presumably on top of whatever settlement share the lead plaintiffs would ordinarily get, the conflict seems more theoretical than practical, and the punishment rather extreme.
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