03/27/2007 05:20 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Ink Isn't Even Dry

On Sunday I posted on Huffington a piece entitled A Necessary Evil. Saturday, even before the piece appeared, The New York Times ran a story suggesting that some Kentucky class action lawyers outdid all my expectations of wickedness. They settled a case on behalf of 440 users of fen-phen for $200 million. The lawyers were supposed to keep 30-33% of the settlement plus expenses. The victims should have gotten somewhere in the neighborhood of $130 million, instead they divided $74 million.

Among other things the lawyers set up a, to quote the Times, "questionable charitable fund." The charitable fund got $20 million and the judge in the case became a director of the charity for a $5,000 a month fee. That was the judge who approved the legal fees that totaled $106 million. On average the plaintiffs received 40% of the settlement rather than the 65% to which they were entitled.

The judge has been reprimanded and returned his monthly fees to the foundation. The Kentucky Supreme Court suspended three lawyers "finding there was probable cause they had misappropriated their clients' money." Now the clients have been forced to hire a new class action lawyer, Angela Ford, to get money back from the previous lawyers. The new lawyer says, "the hardest part of the case so far was forcing the three lawyers to disclose the original settlement agreement..."

A new judge has ruled for the plaintiffs but hasn't decided yet how much the victims should get from their ex-lawyers. There's another lawyer involved, he received $20 million as "a sort of consultant, assisting in negotiating a settlement but not representing individual clients. Ms. Ford is going after him too.

The system stinks. Victims of misfeasance, malfeasance, negligence and corruption can find redress only through trial lawyers who made them selves turn out to be skunks. Erin Brockovich was a hero; I hope that Angela Ford is too. It's about time the people who had their hearts busted by fen-phen, then broken seemingly by shysters, get a fair deal. The lack of federal regulation, the lack of media attention forces us to rely on heroic lawyers. Unfortunately we discover too late that too many lawyers are villains.