Prominent Miami litigator Jeremy Alters has merged his law firm with the New York class action firm Morelli Ratner to form a 20-attorney shop that focuses on mass torts, personal injury and gender-based pay discrimination.
Morelli Alters Ratner will operate offices in New York, Miami and Washington, D.C. Alters will manage the Miami office, Benedict Morelli will remain in New York and David Ratner will be in charge of the Washington operation, which is scheduled to open in January.
The firm intends to specialize in plaintiff class actions. It wants to carve out a specialty in cases against corporations for systematic pay discrimination by gender.
The merger was effective Nov. 21.
“I always said I wanted to have a large class action law firm,” Alters said. “I’m excited to move into New York and Washington, D.C. That’s the center of all the action.”
Alters is fresh off a substantial payday from the $410 million overdraft fee settlement against Bank of America. He said he won’t be actively involved in litigating similar claims against other banks in the multidistrict litigation before Senior U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King in Miami. But he will receive a cut of attorney fees in other settlements.
Morelli Ratner has secured millions of dollars in settlements with pharmaceutical companies that sold the drugs Vioxx, Chantix and Avandia. Morelli, who has been in practice for 35 years, won the largest sex discrimination case in the country last year, for $95 million in federal court for the Southern District of Illinois.
Alters said he got to know Morelli when they served on the board of governors of the American Association for Justice. They became friends and in June jointly filed the first two state and national class action lawsuits against a manufacturer of polyurethane foam insulation spray.
When Alters came under investigation by The Florida Bar last year for alleged trust account irregularities, Morelli attended his bar hearings in a show of support. The bar suspended Alters on an emergency basis last year, but the Florida Supreme Court reversed the suspension and reinstated Alters’ law license in January. Alters blamed any discrepancies on another lawyer who was in charge while he was ill.
“He was there for us in the toughest times,” Alters said of Morelli.
Morelli, who said he and Alters said had been talking about a combination for about a year, said he is not concerned about Alters’ legal troubles.
“I knew instinctively he was telling the truth,” Morelli said. “I had evidence of a number of things that were happening that I interpreted as a witch hunt. Sometimes when you have success as a young man people attack you. I knew the truth would come out.”
Earlier this year at his Golden Beach home, Alters hosted a re-election fundraiser for President Barack Obama.
Alters has suffered financial problems for several years and was sued by some of his former partners and two Argentinian law firms, who claimed he owed them money. He has settled the ex-partners’ lawsuits and said he is now solidly in the black, thanks to his attorney fee award in the Bank of America case.
Alters won’t specify how much he received. But sources say his firm was one of several to receive awards of $20 million each from the $123 million fee award. The other primary plaintiff firms were Podhurst Orseck and Grossman Roth.
The Bank of America fee award paid this month is one of the largest to have been distributed to firms in South Florida.
But Alters still has some unfinished legal business arising from the bank class action case. He is the defendant in a lawsuit filed by an Argentinian law firm that claims it originated the concept for the bank overdraft cases. The suit, brought by the firm Raponi & Hunter Abogados, is set for trial early next year in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.
Alters settled a similar lawsuit brought by another Argentinian law firm, Campos y Asociados, for $600,000 last month.
“Now that a lot of things in Jeremy’s life are decided, it’s the right time for us to move forward,” Morelli said. “We’re bigger and stronger and have more resources together. We can more easily represent clients around the country together.”
Morelli said he and Alters will be leading and managing the firm together. “Our idea is to make the most important decisions together, but if we have to break a tie, I’ll break the tie.”
@|Julie Kay is a reporter for The Business Review, a Law Journal affiliate. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.