Eliot Disner is out of a job, less than a week after court filings made public his objections to the $49 million settlement negotiated by his firm, McGuireWoods, in an antitrust class action against the parent company of BAR/BRI, the nation’s largest provider of bar review courses.
Disner, who was a partner in the Los Angeles office of McGuireWoods, said that the firm fired him May 23. “I was terminated because [McGuireWoods] said that my work on the BAR/BRI case had hurt the [firm's] reputation,” Disner said. His concerns about the proposed settlement with West Publishing Corp., which offers BAR/BRI bar review courses nationwide, surfaced in an objection to the class settlement that was filed last week by three lead plaintiffs.
William Allcott, a McGuireWoods spokesman, declined to discuss the reasons for Disner’s termination. “All I can say is Disner is no longer with McGuireWoods,” said Allcott, a partner in the firm’s Richmond office.
In February, McGuireWoods, representing a class of former BAR/BRI students, negotiated the $49 million settlement with West Publishing and Kaplan Inc., one of West Publishing’s marketing partners. A hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Manuel Real on whether the $49 million settlement will become final is scheduled for June 18.
Under the terms of the settlement, about $36 million of the total would be distributed among up to 300,000 law school graduates who took the BAR/BRI course between 1997 and 2006. That translates into about $125 for each member of the class. The balance would go for roughly $12 million in lawyers’ fees and $1 million in litigation expenses. West Publishing would pay $36 million, and Kaplan would contribute $13 million.But on May 17 three of seven lead plaintiffs filed an objection to the settlement, attaching a 13-page brief written by Disner.
Disner’s brief, which was not supported by McGuireWoods, argues that the firm ought to press for at least $400 million from West Publishing, as well as for the breakup of BAR/BRI. The brief does not question the settlement with Kaplan.
Disner’s brief contends that West Publishing’s purchase in 1997 of the assets of West Bar, which was then BAR/BRI’s most important competitor, is the basis for a powerful antitrust claim. The settlement does not adequately reflect the importance of that claim, the brief asserts.
Disner’s absence from the McGuireWoods litigation team is likely to complicate the firm’s position in seeking Judge Real’s final approval of the settlement. Disner, a veteran antitrust lawyer, brought the suit in 2005 when he was a partner with the Los Angeles firm of Van Etten Suzumoto & Bechet. He became a partner of Richmond-based McGuireWoods when the two firms merged last year.
“The court needs to take note of what’s going. I mean, a lawyer lost his job fighting for this suit,” said Lisa Gintz, one of the three name plaintiff who have opposed the settlement. Along with the others�Loredana Nesci and Ryan Rodriguez�Gintz has been urging McGuireWoods not to finalize the settlement, arguing that it would not protect future BAR/BRI students from antitrust violations. Four other name plaintiffs have endorsed the settlement.
Gintz, who is a sole practioner in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, said that she would ask Disner to represent the three dissenters as coounsel with McGuireWoods at the hearing next month before Judge Real.
Although Disner said that he stands behind the brief contesting the settlement terms, he said that he had not yet decided whether he will represent Gintz, Nesci, and Rodriguez as they seek a more far-reaching settlement.
Joseph Rosenbloom is a freelance contributor to The American Lawyer. (Full disclosure: West Publishing is the exclusive third-party content provider for ALM Media, Inc.)