While the Microsoft class-action cases are a revolting portrait of predatory plaintiff's lawyers ["Actions Without Class," editorial, Dec. 2], California recently produced a case that sets a new standard for self-interest.
In the settlement of a suit against Occidental Petroleum over stock dividends, the plaintiffs' lawyers were set to get $3 million in fees while the shareholders they supposedly represented were to get zero. When a shareholder tried to protest the lawyers' take, the lawyers claimed he had no right to appear in the court because he didn't have a stake in the settlement.
JOHN H. SULLIVAN
Civil Justice Association of California
Most would agree that the dispute between the federal government and Microsoft is ultimately about the overall shape of the high-tech marketplace. But it is also a question of whether a monopoly will be allowed to continue taking advantage of consumers and whether there should be a deterrent to future corporate antitrust bullying.
The fact that most cyberspace consumers hardly knew--or cared--that they probably were being overcharged by 45 percent when they purchased Windows 95 goes precisely to the Justice Department's argument that Microsoft had taken control of this marketplace as a benevolent bully to the extent that consumers did not even know how to shop for alternatives.
Any corporation that gouges millions of consumers to the tune of about $40 each (as is alleged by the Justice Department) profits enormously from its monopolistic muscle-flexing. Individual suits would be too expensive and inefficient, so only class-action suits can hold behemoths such as Microsoft accountable.
Moreover, judges have the power to throw out frivolous cases and penalize lawyers who bring them into the courthouse. They also have the power to review class-action settlements as well as attorneys' fees to ensure fairness for all.
Class actions have a place in our legal system. The hallmarks of this system are judges and citizen jurors who listen to all the evidence and generally make the right decision. They will do the right thing whether the defendant is Microsoft or any other entity that has harmed large numbers of people.
RICHARD H. MIDDLETON Jr.
Association of Trial Lawyers of America
The basis of the editorial "Actions Without Class" should not have been the size of attorneys' fees, which can and should be subject to scrutiny by a judge. Although the key control over attorney behavior is judicial control over fees, in evaluating a particular class action the more important issue is whether wrongs occurred, compensation is due the injured parties and whether litigation will deter future misconduct.
The government has taken the lead in developing the antitrust case against Microsoft. Still, the antitrust verdict or settlement is unlikely to compensate consumers who paid inflated prices because of Microsoft's monopolistic practices. Consumer class actions are a legitimate mechanism to shift this ill-gotten gain from the wrongdoers to the wronged. However, judicial review of the class-action settlement should recognize that the Justice Department did the hard lifting; the modest value added by the class attorneys should be reflected in their court-approved fees.
Public Citizen's Congress Watch