On the day before Thanksgiving, the Recorder had an article (subscription) discussing a recently-adopted practice in class actions in Alameda County. Apparently, the court is often withholding part of the plaintiffs' attorneys' fees in class action settlements to ensure that the attorneys follow through with the work needed to make sure the class members receive their distributions and to wind up the case. An excerpt:
Earlier this year, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Bonnie Sabraw approved a $275,000 attorneys fee award in a meal and rest-break suit against Ace Cash Express, a check cashing chain. She let plaintiff lawyers collect most of the money in April — but made them wait seven months, until last Friday, to pick up the last $25,000.
Sabraw says she held back a small part of the fee award — as she often does in class action settlements — so plaintiff lawyers would help ensure that as many class members as possible would receive a portion of the settlement funds.
"It's not because anybody did anything wrong," Sabraw said. "It's a little further incentive to make sure all the loose ends are tied up."
The local court's practice of withholding part of class action attorneys fees is a few years old at most, and some attorneys say the strategy isn't common elsewhere.
The article does not explain why the court would assume that the plaintiffs' attorneys are going to breach their ethical duties by abandoning the class members unless they have a financial incentive not to. Such an incentive has not been required or needed in my experience.