Crowder approves Household Financial class action settlement
Even though a potential contrarian didn't show up at a Madison County class action settlement conference Thursday morning, Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder didn't make approval of the roughly $100,000 settlement easy for those who did.
Crowder questioned the lack of a set fund to pay out $10 a piece to 10,000 class members who were allegedly over-charged by mortgage lender Household Financial Services, Inc.
Terms as to attorney's fees were not discussed at the hearing.
Before signing off on the case that was brought in 2004, Crowder asked defense attorney Vanessa Jacobsen and the class's attorney Mark Brown of LakinChapman to fix details that concerned her.
"I feel I'm the last stand before the people who were supposedly injured by this and it's my job to make sure that the remedy you have negotiated is there for them," Crowder said. "I wouldn't want to look 10,000 people in the eye and say, 'Well, they didn't really think about this.'"
The class action was brought by lead plaintiffs Paul and Ladonna Wratchford who alleged the lender overcharged customers on interest fees. The class consists of those that closed mortgaged with Household Financial between 1993 and 2004 when the class was certified by then-presiding judge, former Madison County Circuit Judge Phillip Kardis.
The suit was one of a number filed over mortgage fees beginning in 2003 by the then partnership of the Lakin Law Firm of Wood River and the Chicago law firm Freed & Weiss.
That partnership broke up in 2007. Since then, the former partners have battled several times over fees involving the jointly filed class actions.
Former Lakin attorney Richard Burke, who now partners with Freed & Weiss, had filed his appearance in the Wratchford suit last December.
He did not appear at Thursday's hearing.
Brown initially presented arguments in favor of the settlement, stating that Household Financial had agreed to pay out about $10 per claim and that the class members were likely receiving more damages in the $10 than they suffered.
The lead plaintiffs will receive $2,500 collectively.
The class counsel will be paid $125,000 in legal fees.
Crowder, however, took issue with what she termed vague parts of the settlement.
A copy of the settlement agreement was not available in the suit's case file Thursday.
According to Crowder's comments and questions, the parties did not specify what fund the roughly $100,000 in payouts would come from.
She also took issue with the 10 days class members would have to correct claim paperwork, judging it "unrealistically short."
Crowder said she wanted to make sure class members were compensated.
"It's taken years to come to this solution and you're giving them an unrealistically short time to reap any benefit," she said.
Jacobsen, fellow defense attorney Debra Zahalsky and Brown recessed twice during the hearing to confer and make the changes Crowder wanted.
After Jacobsen reached her client, she informed Crowder that the company would put up a $100,000 bond to guarantee the funds would be paid out.
The attorneys also took Crowder's suggestion of extending the 10 day correction window to 30 days and specified that Land of Lincoln Legal Relief Services would receive the remainder of any money not paid to class members.
The parties set a final approval hearing for late July.
The class was originally represented by Gary Peel, now a convicted felon.
Paul Marks is listed as class counsel in the case file.
It also went through four judges before Crowder took it over in 2008.
The case is Madison case number 03-L-541.