BY MELANIE BUCK –
Several lawyers are due in federal court this week after filing a class-action lawsuit in Polk County Circuit Court last year. The case could see almost two dozen lawyers receive ethical sanctions from U.S. Chief District Judge P.K. Holmes of Fort Smith.
The case, Adams v. United States Automobile Association, was originally filed in Holmes’ court, however, after sitting for months, both the defendants and plaintiffs agreed to withdraw the case last June. One day later, the same case was filed in Polk County Circuit Court where in December 2015 Judge Jerry Ryan approved a settlement of more than $5 million that was agreed upon by both sides of the case. After reading an article in Arkansas Business about the case being on a Polk County docket, Holmes issued an order criticizing both the defense and plaintiff attorneys’ conduct and ordered them all to appear in his court on Thursday, February 18, 2016. Holmes said that the case had been re-filed under terms that the parties knew he wouldn’t approve.
As many as seventeen lawyers, plus their lawyers, are set to be present for the hearing that will involve topics of legal ethics and court-forum shopping in multi-million dollar class-action lawsuits.
The case has drawn the attention of national and state publications that said Ken Goodson, one of the lawyers set to appear in the hearing, is the husband of Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson, and his firm Keil & Goodson of Texarkana, have been in class-action controversy for several years with some accusing them of using smaller courts, such as Miller County, Arkansas, to file large class action cases, which were then drug out so long in court that defendants settled rather than being stuck in legal limbo for years. Lawyers for the defense say no legal merit was considered in the cases, yet each case cost some defendants millions in fees, before payments for settlements were considered.
An article published in Fortune in 2013 cited Keil & Goodson, along with two Texas firms, Nix Patterson & Roach, and Crowley Norman, LLP, together took in more than $420 million in attorney’s fees from 23 settlements filed in Miller County Court between 2005 and 2012. In March 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court put a halt to the law firms’ strategy of “trapping defendants in front of friendly and slow-moving elected judges in state courts.” Critics now believe the firms have changed their strategy and have moved beyond Miller County court to rope in other smaller courts.
Some of the lawyers involved in the case have had their ethics questioned before and although most are from Arkansas, it also involves attorneys from Texas, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut.