December 02, 2003
"It is clear that the plaintiffs' attorneys no longer have any interest in protecting the fishermen, as they go in to carve up the $40 million," Murkowski said. "They want to take home $12 million, plus costs. It is up to the state to protect the interests of the plaintiffs, and I am pleased that the Attorney General has asked the court to allow him to do that."
In addition to protecting the fishermen, the state has cited the impact the settlement could have on the distressed Bristol Bay fishery. The fishery has been declared an economic disaster in five of the past seven seasons. "If additional proceeds from the settlement are paid to Bristol Bay fishermen instead of class counsel, it may help alleviate some of the economic stress suffered by this fishery," Attorney General Gregg Renkes wrote in his filing.
If the state is not allowed to intervene in the case, the AG has asked the court to allow him to file an amicus, or "friend of the court" brief. He stressed the duty of the court to "exercise heightened scrutiny when reviewing attorneys fees awarded from a common fund in a class action."
The AG's filing noted that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has used 25 percent as a benchmark for attorneys' fees, but this case involves the unique circumstance where the plaintiffs lost on all counts.
"If we apply the common
sense rule that the losing attorneys should have their fees reduced
for the claims on which they lost in court, they should, indeed,
get nothing," Murkowski said, "because they lost on
all counts. In my opinion, the only reason they have $40 million
to talk about is because they wore down a couple of the defendants.
I stand by my original call to reduce their fee to zero, and
split the $12 million between the fishermen and the processors.
That is the only way this money will ever benefit Bristol Bay."
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