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Two Los Angeles-area attorneys are suing West Publishing and Kaplan Inc., alleging that 300,000 law students and attorneys who relied on their bar review materials were victims of a monopoly that overcharged them $1,000 each. The suit, filed in U.S. district court in Los Angeles on May 2, for name plaintiffs Reena Frailich and Ryan Rodriguez, seeks to triple the total of $300 million in damages that would be available under federal antitrust law. Attorneys are seeking class action status. Rodriguez v. West Publishing Corp., 05cv3222 (C.D. Calif.). According to Eliot Disner of Santa Monica’s Van Etten Suzumoto & Becket, the companies and a third, multistate bar exam preparatory company PMBR, allegedly made a series of secret agreements carving up the bar review market into segments each company then controlled. Once companies controlled a segment, they raised prices, he alleged. Carina Wong of Kaplan Inc. said that the company policy precludes commenting on litigation. But, she said in a written statement, “Kaplan has an established history of maintaining the highest ethical and legal standards in its business practices. We will vigorously defend ourselves against these allegations.” John Shaughnessy, the spokesman for West Publishing, which owns BAR/BRI, the nation’s largest bar review provider, also declined to comment on the suit. The Minnesota-based subsidiary of Thomson Publishing Corp. had not yet seen the complaint. The complaint alleges that in August 1997 a Kaplan executive brokered an agreement whereby BAR/BRI agreed to withdraw from the LSAT preparatory market in exchange for Kaplan’s agreement to stay out of the full-service bar review market. BAR/BRI also had an agreement with PMBR, based in Santa Monica, that PMBR would stay out of the bar review market while BAR/BRI would stay out of the supplemental bar review market, the complaint alleged. As a result, BAR/BRI controls 90 percent to 95 percent of the bar review market and its prices are about $1,000 higher than those in the few states, including Illinois and Indiana, that have price caps or local competition, the complaint alleges. “The monopoly has grown and they don’t have to be as generous,” Disner alleged. “For example, there are fees for the second round if you don’t pass the bar on the first try, where it used to be free,” he said. Marty Graham is a freelance writer based in Southern California. She wrote this story for The National Law Journal, a Recorder affiliate based in New York City.

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