HOUSTON - Now that the massive, $950 million class-action settlement over leaking polybutylene pipe is winding down, a new battle is heating up: debate over lawyer fees. According to a report in Texas Lawyer magazine, during a March 26 hearing in Houston, state District Judge Russell Lloyd refused to approve a settlement that would give Houston lawyer George Fleming $109 million in legal fees and expenses for the case. Fleming settled on behalf of his clients for $170 million.
Lloyd said the amount was too high and would harm the public reputation of the legal profession.
Fleming represented thousands of homeowners who were part of a national $950 million settlement between millions of homeowners and Shell Oil Co., Hoechst Celanese Corp. and DuPont Co. -the largest property damage class-action settlement in U.S. history. It was approved late last year.
Lloyd scheduled an April 26 hearing, but it was delayed because Fleming filed a motion asking for a new judge. No hearing date has been set for that motion.
Contacted last week, Pete Petroski, a lawyer with Fleming's firm, said the judge considered only the cash part of the settlement, of $170 million. But homeowners also will receive new plumbing - totaling another $190 million. That makes the total settlement worth $360 million. The law firm also contends that the judge has no authority to change fees.
The Fleming firm signed up PB clients to contracts with a 40 percent contingency fee, which the firm called ``fair and reasonable.'' Litigation spanned nine years and involved various lawsuits.
According to Texas Lawyer, each plaintiff will get an average of $1,017 in cash plus new plumbing, worth an average of $1,200.