Robert A. Clifford, founder and senior partner at Clifford Law Offices, has been named the lead counsel in the class action fight against Pella window company for allegedly defective, leaking windows. Law 360 reported on the decision by U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel.
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Clifford Law Offices Tapped To Lead Pella Window Fight
By Lance Duroni Law360, Chicago (September 15, 2014, 5:32 PM ET) —
An Illinois federal judge on Friday tapped Clifford Law Offices and George K. Lang to lead renewed litigation in a defective window class action against Pella Corp., passing over two firms involved in a busted settlement of the case that the Seventh Circuit decried as “scandalous.” The appeals court blew up the purported $90 million settlement in June, saying the deal’s value was grossly overestimated and that class counsel Complex Litigation Group LLC must be replaced for an egregious conflict of interest. The panel’s decision left nine firms vying to take the reins of the case, including holdovers Seeger Weiss LLP and Farmer Jaffe Weissing Edwards Fistos & Lehrman PL, who represented the class along with CLG but weren’t faulted by the Seventh Circuit. In a one-page order on Friday, however, U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel appointed a newcomer to the case, Robert A. Clifford of Clifford Law Offices, as class counsel, citing his “demonstrated skills in the field.” Lang, tapped for the co-counsel role, represents a group of disgruntled class members that led the charge to derail the settlement, and Judge Zagel credited “his depth of knowledge of the issues and prior proceedings, and long-term service to the class.” At a hearing before Judge Zagel last month, attorneys for Seeger Weiss and Farmer Jaffe argued that they shouldn’t be dumped as class counsel for a conflict that was limited to CLG, whose lead attorney, Paul M. Weiss, was the son-in-law of class representative Leonard Saltzman. But a number of other firms that recently moved to intervene in the case and replace the embattled class counsel strongly disagreed at the hearing. Thomas Doyle of Wexler Wallace LLP argued that the Seventh Circuit’s criticism went beyond the conflict and accused class counsel of failing to adequately represent the class in general. This amounts to a “taint” that could re-emerge if the case settles and lands before the appeals court again, he said. Other firms, including Whitfield Bryson & Mason LLP, told Judge Zagel at the hearing that they should take over the case due to their extensive experience in construction defect lawsuits “While each attorney heard at the August 28 hearing was no doubt capable, in my view, co-representation by Messrs. Clifford and Lang will best serve the interests of the class,” Judge Zagel wrote in Friday’s order. Clifford is perhaps best known for his work on cases involving large commercial aircraft accidents. For example, he was liaison counsel in sprawling litigation brought by insurance companies and other business interests against American Airlines and United Airlines over the 9/11 terrorist attacks, helping to forge a $1.2 billion settlement of the case in 2012. Lang and Clifford did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment on their appointments on Monday. In April 2013, Judge Zagel approved the supposed $90 million settlement, which was meant to resolve the long-running suit alleging that Pella’s ProLine aluminum-clad windows are defective because water leaks behind the aluminum cladding, resulting in premature wood rot and other damage. But the Seventh Circuit was incredulous that Judge Zagel signed off on the deal. In addition to class counsel’s conflict of interest, the court found that the class recovery would be little more than $1 million and totally rejected the method by which the parties had arrived at the $90 million figure. Pella is represented by James A. O’Neal and Aaron D. Van Oort of Faegre Baker Daniels LLP. The case is Saltzman et al. v. Pella Corp. et al., case number 1:06-cv-04481, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
–Additional reporting by Juan Carlos Rodriguez. Editing by Emily Kokoll.