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MAY 8, 2016


Hour 1 "Chatting about Politics"

with former Ambassador Francis Rooney

Hour 2  Excessive Class Action Attorney's Fees on Trial"

with Lawrence W. Schonbrun

"Chatting about Politics" with Ambassador Francis Rooney


Ambassador Francis Rooney served as U.S. Ambassador to The Holy See from 2005 to 2008, appointed by President George W. Bush and is the author of the book The Global Vatican, which provides an inside look at the Catholic Church, world politics, and the extraordinary relationship between the U.S. and The Holy See. He is a frequent guest commentator providing analysis on national politics and foreign affairs, especially as related to Latin America and the global diplomatic influence of the Holy See. He has appeared on national broadcast and in print publications including USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, CBS This Morning, Fox News, The Washington Post, NPR’s All Things Considered, CNN, Time Magazine, National Catholic Register, National Review, MSNBC Morning Joe, The Hill, Ave Maria Radio, Newsmax, One America Network and the Huffington Post.

Rooney actively performs research and advocacy on foreign affairs, political strategy and economic issues. He is a trustee of The Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, a member of the Council of American Ambassadors, a director of The Trust for the National Mall and Crossroads GPS, all in Washington D.C. He previously served on the 20/20 Committee and Washington Advisory Council for The Center of International Studies.

He is an international business leader with interests in the banking, energy, real estate development and construction sectors. He is chairman of Rooney Holdings, Inc., a diversified investment company, and Manhattan Construction Group, which is engaged in the general building, road, bridge, pipeline and specialty construction segments. He serves on the boards of Mercantil Commercebank, Coral Gables, Florida, Helmerich & Payne, Inc., and Laredo Petroleum, Inc., Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Vetra Energy Group, Bogota, Columbia. He is also a member of the International Advisory Board of the Panama Canal Authority, Republic of Panama. He previously served on the boards of the Diplomatic Council of Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE), and the Young President’s Organization (YPO), where he served as the International President from 1997 to 1998. He is a founding member of the International Business Forum of Oklahoma.

Rooney currently serves on the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) Executive Finance Board, the Jeb Bush for President Florida Executive Finance Council, and is a co-chair of Catholics for Jeb Bush. He is also a member of the campaign’s Religious Liberty Advisory Committee. He previously served on the Romney for President National Finance Council (2011-2012), and as the national finance chairman for Speaker John Boehner (2010-2015). He has served on executive and finance committees for the RGA and the NRSC.

Rooney is dedicated to advancing higher education initiatives as a board member of The University of Oklahoma College of International Studies, the Rooney Center for American Democracy at the University of Notre Dame and the Florida Gulf Coast University Foundation. He previously served as a trustee at the University of Tulsa and served on several university committees including Faculty and Curriculum, Athletics, Advancement, Building and Grounds, and Student Life.

Ambassador Rooney is a graduate of Georgetown University (A.B. 1975) and Georgetown University Law Center (J.D. 1978), and has honorary degrees from the University of Notre Dame (2006) and the University of Dallas (2010). He is a member of the District of Columbia and Texas Bars and has a U.S. Coast Guard 100 Ton Masters license (Sailing Endorsement). He is married to Kathleen Collins Rooney; they have 3 children and two grandchildren.




From the centuries-long prejudices against Catholics in America, to the efforts of Fascism, Communism and modern terrorist organizations to “break the cross and spill the wine,” this book brings to life the Catholic Church’s role in world history, particularly in the realm of diplomacy. Former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See Francis Rooney provides a comprehensive guide to the remarkable path the Vatican has navigated to the present day, and a first-person account of what that path looks and feels like from an American diplomat whose experience lent him the ultimate insider’s perspective. Part memoir, part historical lesson, The Global Vatican captures the braided nature of religious and political power and the complexities, battles, and future prospects for the relationship between the Holy See and the United States as both face challenges old and new.


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Hour 2 "Excessive Class Action Attorney's Fees on Trial"
Lawrence W. Schonbrun    WE THE PEOPLE RADIO
Lawrence W. Schonbrun is a nationally recognized authority on the issue of the reasonableness of attorneys' fee awards in class actions.  He has appeared on behalf of unnamed class members in approximately 200 class actions throughout the United States.  A New York City native now living in Northern California, he received his undergraduate degree from the University of Vermont in 1966 and his law degree from Boston College Law School in 1969. 

Mr. Schonbrun has been featured on John Stossel's ABC special, "The Trouble With Lawyers," as well as Morley Safer's 60 Minutes report, "The Disaster That Wasn't."  He has also testified before the United States Congress on the issue of attorney contingency fees and before the California Senate Judiciary Committee on class action reform legislation.  His work in the field of class actions has been chronicled in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Forbes, The Washington Post, Barron's, BusinessWeek, Bloomberg Business News Service, and American Thinker.


A battle is now being waged in the California Supreme Court over how much money courts should pay attorneys from class action settlements.  The case will have national implications.  What's at stake is whether attorneys are to be paid based on a percentage of the settlement or based on the legal services they provide to the class.  Also at issue is whether a class guardian will be appointed to protect against excessive attorneys' fee requests by class counsel.

The Laffitte case is an employment dispute, in which the class's recovery was $19 million.  The plaintiffs' lawyers were awarded 33% of their clients' fund, which amounted to $6.3 million.  This was the equivalent of being paid at partner rate of $1,597.50 per hour.  The difference between a payment for legal services provided as opposed a percentage of the settlement is a windfall profit for the attorneys.  Every dollar of fees is a dollar that does not go to a class member. 

Excessive Class Action Attorneys’ Fees on Trial

By Lawrence W. Schonbrun

A class member in a landmark class action lawsuit is hoping that California will live up to its reputation as a national trendsetter—this time in the area of how attorneys get paid in class action litigation.  The California Supreme Court is considering a case which could level the playing field between class members and class action attorneys during the fee-setting process.  The Court’s decision could affect the allocation of billions of dollars, both in California and nationally.  Ultimately, the case will determine how many of those dollars remain in the hands of class members—on whose behalf the class action mechanism was originally designed—and how many of those dollars are to be diverted to the lawyers who litigate these lawsuits through judicial awards of attorneys’ fees.

The class member that I represent is asking the Supreme Court to confirm its landmark ruling in Serrano v. Priest.  In that case, California's highest court ruled that attorneys' fee awards were not to be based on a percentage of the class's settlement recovery, but rather on the value of the legal services performed by the attorneys.  The rationale for the decision was that courts were routinely overpaying class counsel by using the percentage method.  The Supreme Court was concerned that this jeopardized the public's respect for the judicial system and the integrity of the bar.

 The current case, Laffitte v. Robert Half International, is an employment law dispute, in which the class settled for $19 million.  From this amount, the plaintiffs' lawyers sought 33-1/3% of the recovery, or $6.3 million.  The attorneys sought payment for their work equivalent to a partner rate of $1,597.50 per hour!  Every dollar of that is a dollar that does not go to a class member.

Class action attorneys assert they should be paid like lawyers that take personal injury cases on contingency.  The traditional percentage in one-plaintiff/one law-firm contingent fee litigation is one-third.  However, class actions are profoundly different from contingent fee litigation.  In class actions, clients never have any contact with the lawyers who represent them and have not agreed to a fee prior to the commencement of the litigation.  When a case settles, the attorneys' fee is determined by a judge, who is supposed to protect class members from excessive attorneys' fee requests.

Class action attorneys argue that the award of a fixed percentage of their clients' recovery is necessary to attract skilled lawyers to take such cases.  The problem in class actions, however, may be that there is too much incentive, not too little.  Take, for example, the class action against Volkswagen after recent disclosures of corporate wrongdoing.  More than 500 separate class action lawsuits have been filed in the United States, each one seeking to represent the entire class of deceived car purchasers.  No problem attracting attorneys here!

The attorneys claim a fixed percentage incentivizes lawyers to get the most they can for their clients in settlement.  That sounds reasonable—until one remembers that law is a profession and attorneys have a duty of loyalty to their client.  It is the very foundation of professional responsibility.

These lawyers also argue that trial courts are too busy to calculate the fee based on the work done for the class because this would require judges to scrutinize lengthy bills listing each service performed by each attorney in the litigation.

Class counsel's arguments in our case all revolve around incentivizing attorneys to work in the best interests of their clients and on minimizing the burden on the judiciary.  The interests of class members are sadly absent, despite being the justification for the very existence of the class action mechanism.  The interests of plaintiffs' lawyers and judges take precedence in the minds of class counsel.

The American judicial system is based on adversarial presentations to the court.  The judge chooses between opposing positions argued by the two sides.  Our case asks the California Supreme Court to bring its originalSerrano III decision into the 21st Century by creating a more class member-protective system.  We seek to have the high court require that trial courts appoint class guardians to represent the interests of class members during the fee determination process.

At the fee-setting stage, the attorneys for the class are not representing their clients.  They are seeking to maximize their fee—inherently at the expense of their clients!  A class guardian would scrutinize attorneys' time records and provide a report to the judge.  When the class attorneys hire experts to give their fee requests a "professional blessing," class guardians would be able to hire opposing experts.  Guardians would provide the class with representation in the fee determination process by offering vigorous opposition to balance the forcefully argued position of class counsel seeking to maximize their fee awards.  Filling in the missing adversarial role for the class would make the fee determination process more consistent with American principles of justice.

—Lawrence W. Schonbrun is the Berkeley, California attorney for the petitioning class member in the Laffitte case.