Lawyers oppose motion to disclose wife of former federal judge will share $80 million fee

By Record News | Feb 18, 2019

EAST ST. LOUIS – Lawyers who settled a class action against State Farm for $250 million oppose a motion to disclose the fee for Trish Murphy, wife and law partner of former federal judge Patrick Murphy.

Her associate Robert Nelson of San Francisco replied to the motion on Feb. 15, without mentioning her name.

Nelson wrote that Lisa Marlow of Tennessee, who filed the motion, relied on innuendo more than argument.

He accused Marlow of delay tactics and willful violations of court orders.

“Her objection is the only thing standing in the way of class members finally obtaining compensation after many long years of litigation," Nelson wrote.

Her lawyer estimates Murphy’s share at $8 million to $10 million.

Patrick Murphy started the litigation in Williamson County in 1997, as local counsel for a national class action team.

He alleged that State Farm cheated policyholders in 47 states by specifying and providing inferior parts for crash repairs.

Trish Littleton of his firm, now his wife, also worked on the case.

In 1998, President Clinton nominated Patrick Murphy as judge.

In 1999, jurors returned a verdict for class representative Michael Avery, and associate judge John Speroni entered judgment of $1,186,180,000.

Fifth District appellate judges affirmed the judgment in 2001, but reduced damages to $1,056,180,000.

The Illinois Supreme Court unanimously reversed the judgment in 2005.

Four Justices found Speroni shouldn’t have certified a class, two would have let him divide the class into smaller classes, and one took no part.

In 2011, Avery petitioned the Supreme Court to review evidence that State Farm secretly supported the campaign of Justice Lloyd Karmeier in 2004.

The Supreme Court denied the petition.

Avery’s lawyers sued State Farm in federal court under racketeering law in 2012, on behalf of class member Mark Hale.

They claimed Karmeier’s participation tainted the proceedings, and sought to recover the judgment with interest and triple damages.

As District Judge David Herndon prepared for trial last year, class counsel planned to ask jurors for about $7 billion.

Trial began in September and quickly ended in a $250 million settlement.

Marlow objected to class counsel’s fee, claiming they settled for too little. 

Mark Downton of Nashville wrote for her that the class obtained a series of favorable rulings from Herndon and Seventh Circuit appeals judges.

Herndon found Marlow wrong on every point at a fairness hearing in December.

“Her lawyer engaged in a great deal of hyperbole and speculation and a suggestion of knowledge he could not possibly have possessed," Herndon said.

Herndon said that he wouldn’t have awarded interest, that tripling of damages was rank speculation, and that a statute of limitations was a significant impediment.

He brought up trial expenses and said, “Trish Murphy is from Southern Illinois but the others were by and large from distances far and wide.”

This perked some ears, for her name never appeared in the case record.

Herndon approved the settlement with a fee of a third for class counsel, approximately $80 million.

Downton appealed the fee for Marlow.

Herndon retired at the end of December, and Chief District Judge Michael Reagan took the case.

Downton questioned Trish Murphy’s role on Feb. 6, in a motion to file the fee allocation as a supplement to the record on appeal.

He wrote that her name didn’t appear in the record until Herndon said it.

“When did she become involved?" Downton wrote. "What services did she perform?”

In reply, Nelson wrote that Marlow was the lone objector in a class of 4.7 million.

Nelson wrote that nearly 1.5 million would receive automatic payments after her baseless appeal is resolved.

He wrote that she and Downton flouted court orders, with Marlow refusing to sit for a deposition and both failing to appear at the hearing.

He wrote that class counsel submitted the fee allocation to Herndon in camera.

“Upon review, Judge Herndon did not direct that the document was to be included in the record or otherwise entered on the docket, even under seal," Nelson wrote.

He wrote that Herndon discharged his duty to the class by deciding what the work of the attorneys was worth.

“Judge Herndon properly determined the value of class counsel’s collective efforts and left the allocation of the awarded funds to counsel’s discretion," Nelson wrote.

“The order did not rely on class counsel’s internal allocation agreement, and Judge Herndon properly exercised his discretion in declining to include the document as part of the record.”

Reagan set a hearing March 13.

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