Lawyers Line Up for Key Roles in GM Defect Litigation

Lawyers Line Up for Key Roles in GM Defect Litigation Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/NLJ Jesse Furman.

More than 60 lawyers have applied for lead roles in the litigation against General Motors Co. over ignition-switch defects.

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman is accepting applications for coveted appointments to the plaintiffs steering committee, which will guide strategy for more than 100 lawsuits filed against GM in the Southern District of New York. Many of the lawyers are expected to argue for the posts during an Aug. 11 hearing.

Furman gave the green light to create the panel, despite uncertainty over whether a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge will deem many of the cases barred under a provision of GM’s 2009 bankruptcy.

The plaintiffs steering committee will include a lead counsel committee comprising three attorneys who would oversee both the class actions seeking economic damages and the personal-injury and wrongful-death cases. A separate executive committee of 10 members will assist them. There are two liaison positions—one to work with attorneys in the bankruptcy proceeding and another to communicate with lawyers with cases against GM in state courts across the country.

Applications from attorneys at more than 50 firms in 18 states—more than half of them based in California, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas—flooded the court before the July 28 deadline. About a dozen of the hopefuls were women.

The applicants included three attorneys already serving as interim lead counsel: Steve Berman, managing partner of Seattle’s Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro; Mark Robinson, managing partner of Robinson Calcagnie Robinson Shapiro Davis in Newport Beach, Calif.; and Elizabeth Cabraser, partner at San Francisco’s Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein.

Many attorneys aligned themselves with the interim lead counsel, who were to submit their own recommendations on Friday. Many of them worked together on the sudden-acceleration litigation against Toyota Motor Corp.

Other applicants included Robert Hilliard, partner at Hilliard Muñoz Gonzales in Corpus Christi, who filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against GM on behalf of 658 people injured or killed in crashes attributed to the defect.

In vying for lead counsel, Hilliard said he planned to file an additional 248 cases in federal court and 50 lawsuits in state courts nationwide.

Attorneys at 13 other firms claiming to represent 135 plaintiffs in 33 states have coalesced behind Harley Tropin, president of Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton, and Peter Prieto of Podhurst Orseck, both of Miami.

Some lawyers suggested specialty posts—representing only litigants who filed over accidents that occurred after GM’s 2009 bankruptcy, for example, or just personal-injury or wrongful-death cases. Others noted their expertise in specific areas of law or their firm’s location, like Detroit or Washington.

In submitting for lead counsel, one lawyer—Lance Cooper of The Cooper Firm in Marietta, Ga., who represents the parents of Brooke Melton, the case that first sparked the ignition-switch issue—put it more simply: “Our law firm uncovered the GM ignition key system defects in the first place.”

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