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With final court approval of nearly $48 million in settlements from the last two remaining defendants, the class action price-fixing suit against manufacturers of graphite electrodes has now brought in more than $134 million. Senior U.S. District Judge Charles R. Weiner last week signed orders in Re Graphite Electrodes Antitrust Litigation, approving a $45 million settlement by Mitsubishi Corp. and a $2.9 million settlement by Nippon Carbon Co. Lead plaintiffs’ attorney Merrill G. Davidoff of Berger & Montague said Monday that the plaintiffs previously secured settlements of more than $86 million from other defendants. Even after attorney fees and costs are deducted, Davidoff said, the class plaintiffs will recover “well over 100 percent of their damages.” Since antitrust suits carry the threat of trebled damages, Davidoff said, a settlement for 100 percent of damages is still a compromise. The civil settlements came on the heels of a series of prosecutions by the Justice Department in which the same defendants paid more than $425 million in fines. According to the Justice Department’s charges, at least eight manufacturers of graphite electrodes participated in a conspiracy to suppress and eliminate competition over a five-year period ending in June 1997. As a result, prosecutors said, steel makers paid higher prices for graphite electrodes used in manufacturing steel products. Graphite electrodes are large columns used in electric arc furnaces in steel-making “mini-mills” — the fastest growing method of steel production in the United States. The electrodes generate the intense heat necessary to melt scrap and further refine steel. Nine electrodes, joined in columns of three, are used in the typical electric arc furnace. Because of the intensity of the melting process, electrodes are continuously consumed. Total sales of graphite electrodes in the United States were estimated at $500 million for 1996 and more than $1.75 billion during the term of the charged conspiracy. Prosecutors said that in the criminal prosecutions, Mitsubishi Corp. was convicted at trial and hit with a fine of $134 million, while six others pleaded guilty and paid fines ranging from $2.5 million to $135 million. The Carbide/Graphite Group of Pittsburgh received amnesty through the antitrust division’s corporate leniency program and avoided prosecution. SGL Carbon AG of Germany paid $135 million; UCAR Inter-national Inc. of Danbury, Conn., was fined $110 million; Showa Denko Carbon Inc. of Ridgeville, S.C., paid $32.5 million; Tokai Carbon Co. of Japan paid $6 million; SEC Corp. of Japan paid $4.8 million; and Nippon Carbon Co. of Japan paid $2.5 million, according to prosecutors. In the class action, Davidoff and Martin I. Twersky shared co-lead counsel status with a team of lawyers from three other Philadelphia firms, including Howard J. Sedran of Levin Fishbein Sedran & Berman; Leonard Barrack, Mark R. Rosen and Jeffrey B. Gittleman of Barrack Rodos & Bacine; and Joseph C. Kohn and William E. Hoese of Kohn Swift & Graf. In December 1998, Weiner approved settlements of more than $21.7 million by UCAR and more than $7.5 million by Showa Denko. In February 2000, Weiner approved a settlement of more than $17 million by SGL, and one month later approved supplemental settlements of $8 million by UCAR and $7.8 million by Showa Denko relating to foreign sales. Carbide/Graphite Group, the defendant granted amnesty by the government, paid more than $12.7 million to settle the class action civil claims. In March 2001, Weiner approved a joint settlement of more than $2.3 million by VAW Aluminum AG and VAW Carbon GmbH. And in March and November 2002, respectively, Weiner approved settlements of $2.5 million by SEC and $6 million by Tokai.

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