Chris Seeger, co-lead counsel for the class of NFL players in concussion litigation, responded Friday in a court filing to recent criticism that he did not disclose his ties to a third-party litigation company that has provided loans to ex-players.
Seeger, of Seeger Weiss, came under fire for the apparent lack of transparency after having tried to steer the court away from other litigation funders providing similar agreements. In court papers he outlined his reasons for not previously making the disclosure.
His explanation came in a declaration submitted Friday to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The papers detailed Seeger’s history with Esquire Bank and said he did not previously mention the company’s loans because they were properly structured loans with reasonable rates.
He also noted that he resigned from the company in 2016, and said his history with the company “had nothing to do with the decision as to which third-party funders/lenders/asset purchasers/assignees were included” in the motion he filed asking the court to halt payments in cases where claimants had obtained loans from severing other lending companies.
“The assignees that were included in the motion to direct are those who entered into agreements with class members that were styled as ‘assignments’ in violation of the settlement’s ‘no assignment of claims’ provision,” he said. “As represented to me, the agreements with class members into which Esquire entered were loans secured by the monetary awards, as opposed to ‘assignments’ of portions of the monetary awards.”
Until May 2016, Seeger was a director at Esquire Financial Holdings, a holding company for Esquire Bank. According to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing, Esquire Financial Holdings has provided consumer loans to claimants involved in mass tort and class action settlements, including the NFL concussion settlement.
Along with differentiating the structure of the loans, Seeger also said Esquire’s loans rates, which he said were 9 percent and did not include fees or compounding interest, were far more reasonable than those of other companies.
“This is in contrast to agreements entered into by the respondent assignees, which were structured as ‘assignments’ to avoid the usury laws, and which would result in class members paying de facto rates of 30 to 40 percent or even more, with exorbitant fees and compounded interest,” he said. “Further, as distinct from the assignees, Esquire is a federally-regulated bank, subject to significant oversight.”
Seeger has recently aimed criticism at several third-party litigation funding companies, which he said have entered into “predatory” loan agreements with former players and may even be engaged in falsifying documents, or coaching claimants to gain more favorable assessments in the claims process. As part of that dispute, Seeger has also asked the court to have the settlement claims administrator withhold portions of awards owed to some of those third-party funders.
One of the third-party litigation funding companies Seeger has been critical of is Atlas Legal Funding. However, in mid-November, Atlas filed a motion raising questions about Seeger’s past relationship with Esquire Bank, and said the court could look into the topic.
SEC filings show that the company had provided $3.7 million to individuals in post-settlement consumer loans as of March 31, and research indicates that Seeger has some past and current professional relationships with attorneys still serving as directors at the bank.
In the declaration, Seeger also said that the settlement claims administrator had developed the list of third-party litigation companies he sought discovery for regarding potentially exorbitant loans.
“Should any of these third-party lenders convert the assignments to loans, similar to those provided by Esquire, at 9 percent simple interest and waiver of all fees, we would gladly recommend to the court that no escrowing is necessary as to those particular class members’ monetary awards,” he said in an emailed statement. “We appreciate the court’s swift action on this issue, and will continue to present our findings and ask for any necessary relief to ensure class members receive these important and hard-earned benefits.”
Marissa Parker of Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, who is representing Atlas Legal Funding, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.