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Big money for lawyers

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It's known that the lawyers got $185 million in legal fees. It's not known how much money their clients got. The lawyers won't say, and a Texarkana circuit judge turned down a request from an opposing attorney that he require disclosure of the amount.

The case involves a class-action lawsuit against more than 20 groups of insurance companies. Plaintiffs allege that numerous customers of those insurance companies were harmed by the companies' use of a software program called Colossus in calculating damages in automobile accidents. Some 25 lawyers from Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma joined in filing the suit. Judging from filings in the case, John C. Goodson of Texarkana is the lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

He did not return calls from the Arkansas Times. Goodson is married to a justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court.

At least 24 groups of defendant insurance companies have settled with the plaintiffs. Those settlements, approved by Miller Circuit Judge Kirk D. Johnson, produced $185,106,129.64 cents in legal fees for the plaintiffs' lawyers. A group known as the ANPAC defendants (for American National Property and Casualty Company) has not settled, and ANPAC's lawyer, Elizabeth Fletcher of Little Rock, has tried to discover how much money has gone to the members of the class, the actual injuried parties. She asked for the number of class members, the number of claims paid, and the total amount of claims paid.

"Fundamental fairness and the principles of due process support ANPAC's right to discover this information," Fletcher wrote. "The potential for conflict between the members of the class and the class lawyers, which specifically bears on issues of adequacy of counsel, increases as there is less and less relation between the amount collected by the class members and the hundreds of millions of dollars collected by the class attorneys."

Goodson replied that the information sought by Fletcher was irrelevant, and accused her of "slinging mud" at him. Judge Johnson agreed with Goodson about the irrelevancy of Fletcher's request.

Last month, the suit against ANPAC was dismissed at the request of Goodson and his law partner, Matt Kiel. Their motion did not explain why they wanted a dismissal. Judge Johnson dismissed the case "without prejudice," which means it could be filed again.

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