Former U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen, the Special Master appointed to investigate alleged improper billing by class plaintiffs’ firms in Arkansas Teacher Retirement System v. State Street Bank and Trust Company, recommended that the firms return up to $10.6 million of the $74.5 million in attorneys’ fees awarded to them after reaching a $300 million settlement in the underlying class action. If upheld, the results of the Judge Rosen’s report will likely have both negative and positive impacts. For example, it may create some barriers to the effective prosecution of plaintiffs’ securities cases, but it also may lead to more detailed scrutiny of fee applications to the benefit of class members.
In his balanced Special Master’s Report, Judge Rosen praised the “skilled and dedicated” plaintiffs’ attorneys for six years of work leading to an “excellent” settlement of a complex case in which plaintiffs alleged that State Street engaged in unfair and deceptive practices in conducting foreign exchange transactions on behalf of its customers while failing to disclose mark-ups to clients from which State Street ultimately benefited.
In fact, Judge Rosen found that, “all other things being equal, the attorneys’ fee award [of nearly $75 million] was fair, reasonable and deserved.” However, according to Judge Rosen, “all other things were not equal.” The investigation—which spanned over 14 months, cost $3.8 million, and encompassed written discovery, production of 200,000 pages of documents, 34 witness interviews and 63 depositions—resulted in, according to Judge Rosen, “a mixed narrative of good intentions, great talent, and undeniable accomplishment and result, undermined by serious albeit inadvertent mistakes compounded by a troubling disdain for candor and transparency that at times crossed the line into outright concealment of important material facts.”