Le­gal in­ter­ests rising in bread suit

The Compass - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky East­ern Pas­sages Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 39 SaltWire news­pa­pers in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@thetele­gram.com. On Twit­ter, he’s @wanger­sky.

There’s dough in class ac­tion law­suits, even ones over bread. But who gets the big­gest sin­gle slice? Usu­ally the law firms.

There’s a lot of bread in bread. Loblaws has started send­ing the $25 gift cards it promised to par­tially rec­om­pense cus­tomers for the com­pany’s role in fix­ing the price of store-bought bread. Not un­ex­pect­edly, the me­dia has been cov­er­ing the happy and not-so-happy re­cip­i­ents of the cards.

Peo­ple who ap­plied for the cards had to agree the $25 would be de­ducted from any set­tle­ment they might re­ceive in any fu­ture class ac­tion law suit.

Mean­while, be­hind the scenes, the le­gal strug­gles over what’s bound to be a very lu­cra­tive class ac­tion law­suit got go­ing in On­tario’s Su­pe­rior Court of Jus­tice.

Two large law firms went to court in what’s called a car­riage mo­tion to see which one of them would get to rep­re­sent On­tar­i­ans in the case.

The case pit­ted Stros­berg Sasso Sutts LLP on one side against the team of So­tos LLP and Siskinds LLP on the other. (A third le­gal player, the Mer­chant Law Group, has started a se­ries of sim­i­lar ac­tions in west­ern prov­inces.)

“Lit­i­ga­tion is war, and the weak go to the wall,” Har­vey T. Stros­berg is quoted as say­ing on the Stros­berg web­site.

The site also says, “Since 1993, Stros­berg Sasso Sutts LLP has been a pi­o­neer and leader … We con­tinue to be in­volved in many of the most im­por­tant and prece­dent set­ting class ac­tions in Canada.”

So­tos? Well, their web­site is just as bullish: “So­tos LLP is a rec­og­nized leader in class ac­tion lit­i­ga­tion in Canada. We take on com­plex and chal­leng­ing class ac­tions across all in­dus­tries, and pros­e­cute them to con­clu­sion.”

Their part­ners in their ac­tion, Siskinds? Well, here you go: “In­di­vid­u­als can be pow­er­less against large cor­po­ra­tions. … Siskinds lever­ages the power of many, evening the play­ing field and ob­tain­ing re­sults for our clients.”

You get the pic­ture.

But back to the car­riage mo­tion. Stros­berg ar­gued they were the rab­bits, first out of the gate by launch­ing a le­gal ac­tion a few short days af­ter the Com­pe­ti­tion Bureau is­sued a news re­lease say­ing there was an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the price­fix­ing.

So­tos? They ar­gued they were the more prac­ti­cal tor­toise.

“So­tos took a more cau­tious ap­proach than Stros­berg,” the judge hear­ing the mo­tion wrote. “It is So­tos’ view that by wait­ing be­fore jump­ing into the lit­i­ga­tion arena, they avoided the po­ten­tial for se­ri­ous em­bar­rass­ment and se­ri­ous costs for (their clients).”

In the judge’s words, “Both firms con­cede that Stros­berg was ear­lier off the mark in pur­su­ing the case. Stros­berg sees it­self as more en­er­getic and ef­fec­tive as class coun­sel; So­tos sees Stros­berg’s early lead as a sign of a rash flight into the un­known.”

The rab­bit won this round. Stros­berg will rep­re­sent the On­tario class ac­tion mem­bers.

It’s a lot of fight for bread — but there’s a lot in­volved.

If I’m read­ing the $100 mil­lion set­tle­ment right, a re­cent sex­ual ha­rass­ment class ac­tion against the RCMP will see the law firms in­volved re­ceive as much as $27 mil­lion.

I’m not say­ing the lawyers in­volved aren’t go­ing to do their ab­so­lute best to help their clients’ cause. What I am say­ing is those firms aren’t char­i­ties, and that their work on be­half of their clients is bill­able time.

I re­mem­ber one re­cent case, also in On­tario, where a class ac­tion went side­ways and was set­tled for a $250,000 pay­ment. Of that money, $5,000 went to the in­di­vid­ual who was the named party in the case, $165,000 went to the lawyers, and $80,000 to the In­vestors’ Pro­tec­tion Clinic at the Os­goode Hall Law School.

There’s dough in class ac­tion law­suits, even ones over bread. But who gets the big­gest sin­gle slice? Usu­ally the law firms.

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