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Retired L.A. County judge disciplined after ordering gift card payment to lawyer

A retired Los Angeles County judge who ordered that a lawyer be paid in $10 gift cards from a women’s fashion store as part of a legal settlement was censured Tuesday and barred from presiding over future court cases.

The Commission on Judicial Performance accused Brett C. Klein of showing bias, abusing his authority and “grandstanding to the press” in a class-action lawsuit that he briefly presided over last year.

The lawsuit was brought by a woman who accused a clothing store chain of violating privacy laws by asking for personal identification information when customers used credit cards to make purchases. As part of a settlement, which had been given preliminary approval by a different judge, the two sides agreed that Windsor Fashions would pay the customer who brought the suit $2,500 and her attorney $125,000.

Other customers who came forward as part of the suit would each be given a $10 gift voucher, according to state disciplinary records. But Klein, who was asked to preside over a final hearing in the case when a colleague fell ill, made sarcastic remarks to the attorneys and changed the terms of the settlement after the hearing, disciplinary records show.

The new settlement required the store to pay both the customer who brought the suit and her attorney in gift certificates. Klein sent a copy of his order approving the altered settlement to the Metropolitan News-Enterprise, a local daily legal newspaper, which published a story about the case, the commission said.

Reached at home, Klein said he was disappointed by the commission’s decision. He said his role at the January 2009 hearing was to decide whether the settlement was fair. He noted that customers who claimed $10 gift certificates were required to buy something at the store in order to take advantage of the settlement.

“I thought that the settlement would only be fair if the lawyer was paid the same way,” Klein said.

He defended his decision to alert the legal newspaper about his decision.

“I’m a bit startled to be criticized for furnishing a public document to a journalist,” he said.

The commission said its discipline was the maximum possible for a former judge. Klein, who retired in November, was publicly admonished in 2004 for allegedly displaying bias and abusing his authority in an unrelated case.

-- Jack Leonard

Comments () | Archives (20)

I think it is perfectly reasonable that both the customer and lawyer be paid in gift certificates. In fact what seems outrageous is to pay the lawyer $125,000 for this case. Many lawyers are receiving far too much money in these class action cases.
For example, my wife recently participated in a class action case where the state retirement system made an error in payment to retirees. The lawyers who brought the suit got one third of the money that should have been paid to them. But why did not the state force the retirement system to pay the correct amount without the lawyers? This is just plain corruption.

No wonder no one wants to do business in Kommiefornia when a store can be hit with a $100,000+ judgment because they asked for ID.

Too bad. I'm tired of getting the scraps from the lawyer's table in these class action lawsuits.

The most cynical class action lawsuits are those in which the lawyers receive $$$ and the stockholders receive additional stock! Since the percentage of stock that the stockholders own remains exactly the same, the stockholders actually get _zero_!

For once I'm on the side of the Judge. he saw the injustice and acted upon it. She received $2,500.00 and her blood sucking attorney received $125,000.00 thats a crime in itself. POS attorneys the award should have been the other way around. Actually there shoudn't of even been a court case. If someone asks you for personal info can't you just say "NO" I do.

if it wasn't for the "blood sucking attorney", the woman wouldn't have gotten ANYTHING. the attorney had to do all the work. the woman had no real damages...she just had her information mishandled by the store.

To the commentators above: I think you may be missing the point of class-action lawsuits. Of course the lawyers get more than any one plaintiff - that's the whole idea behind class-action lawsuits. They exist where the damages to any one individual aren't significant enough to warrant that individual bringing a lawsuit, but where the damages to many individuals put together are significant. The lawyer gets paid more than any individual plaintiff because she or he does all of the work.

The end result: a company that breaks the law faces the consequences. Without class action lawsuits, a company could break the law with impunity in any situation where the damages to any one individual weren't high enough to warrant bringing a lawsuit (e.g. $2 in hidden bank fees each month that might annoy you but that you probably wouldn't go to small claims court over). If you think this is a law that shouldn't be enforced, well that is a whole separate issue.

Again, the lawyers get paid so that they will bring these cases and enforce the law. They shouldn't have to be paid in gift cards any more than you should have to receive your salary in gift cards.

You know what, after reading this story, I don't blame the judge also. How is it that the lawyer in this case get's more than the actual people suing in the first place. The lawyer get's $125,000 and the person suing only get's a lousy $2,500.00 - somethings not right about this decision.

Nice to see our worlds best judiciary at work. Dont you love it when lawyers fight and scratch to reach a settlement that is fair to all parties in an action??

Its time the legal profession was regulated by an independent body of non-lawyers.

And people wonder why there's no faith in lawyers?

The lawyer is a greedy bottom feeder. This is just legalized theft. Good for Klein for trying to strike a blow for justice. Who is this sleazy lawyer?

I would like to nominate Judge Klein to the Supreme Court of United States. However, I have a feeling that Obama doesn't share the same sentiment as I do. Judge Klein need to run for an office.

I think Judge Klein is a hero! Consumers ought to buy that man a steak dinner.

Remember, for attorneys, "justice" actually means "just us". Non-attorneys are only entitled to whatever crumbs the attorneys will let them have. If I have a doctor and want a second professional opinion about how my first doctor is treating me, I am free to seek that second opinion. If I have an attorney and want a second professional opinion about how my attorney is treating the case, it is "unethical" to get a second opinion.

Attorneys are scum. Justice would be best served by banning the profession entirely.

I like this judge's style. Wasn't the lawyer OK with getting his money in gift certificates? If not, who negotiated the gift certificate settlement for the people in the suit?

"violating privacy laws by asking for personal identification information when customers used credit cards to make purchases"

I'd be interested in hearing about that. What kind of ID were they asking for? Fingerprints? SSN? Combination saliva/blood/urine/stool sample?

"The lawsuit was brought by a woman who accused a clothing store chain of violating privacy laws by asking for personal identification information when customers used credit cards to make purchases."

So the store asked her for ID when using a credit card and she sued them? I would be of the opinion that the store does not have to accept the credit card for payment if it does not want to. The lawyer somehow wins this case for his client and gets her 2500. She was not out this money the store just asked for ID. He gets compensated for the time and effort he put into the case. He probably has incurred expenses and a small staff to pay for so the money is not that unreasonable. In reading the comments posted here by the looter class of people agreeing with the actions of this "activist" judge, it reminds me of just how far gone our country is and that makes me sad.

I'm much more concerned with why a case of asking for ID to use a credit card, which ought to be standard in this world of increasing CC theft and identity theft, was even awarded a settlement!

Absolutely. For years I've thought that attorneys in class action suits should be paid in kind. Whatever the plaintiffs, get, that is how the attorneys should be paid. To do otherwise is just a scam. We should get a proposition on the ballot next November to make that the law of California.... it would pass hands down.

Before you get all huffy about checking ID on your credit card purchases, READ the little flyer that comes with the card. You will find that the credit card companies are the ones who said the card is to be accepted without ID. The store had no reason to check ID.

Everyone criticizes attorneys, but they sure do love them when it's their bacon in the frying pan. Maybe if you actually understood your rights, you might appreciate what has been taken away.

Wow... most of those who are commenting here are using a jump-to-conclusions mat.

First of all - it's a class action suit. The very nature of the suit is that one person doesn't have many damages by themselves, but as a group, or collectively, many people have suffered damage. Therefore, the attorney is representing MORE than just one person. And as a few others pointed out, the lawyer is doing the amount of work representative of many people, not one. So it only makes sense that because they have a lot of work, they get paid for it. The victim's award should NOT be correlated to how much the lawyer gets paid. And it's even sillier to assume that the lawyer should only be paid $2500. I'm sure there was plenty of work done on the lawyer's part to justify far more than that.

In addition, the story mentions nothing of the actual laws being breached by the retailer. Yet many of you assume they were just asking for identification. I'm pretty sure that if that happened, the judge would have laughed this one away. Usually, you don't lose a judgement in a class action suit in a court of law for simply verifying identification. I can't be sure because the article doesn't say, but it is silly to just assume that they weren't doing anything wrong. Clearly the judge thought their actions were grievous enough to warrant a large payment. Privacy laws exist for a reason, and it sounds like they broke at least one of them.

As for paying the lawyer in gift cards - that is absolutely ridiculous. That is his paycheck, same as ANY other worker in the country. Why should he be subject to ludicrous stipulations? If you work at McDonalds, and your boss tried to pay you in gift cards ($10 increments, mind you) there would be an uproar. The same logic should apply here. Just because you don't like someone's chosen career, that doesn't mean that you can demean them, and alter their compensation. Because realistically, $125000 in gift cards to a retail store is NOT the same as $125000.

You don't have to like all lawyers - but to lump them all into a category and say they're "scum," bottom feeders," and "sleazy" is irresponsible at best. You have no information about the merits of this lawyer, or his involvement in this case. For all we know, he has been working this case for a few years, and putting in thousands of hours. How do we know what he should be compensated? It is totally unfair to label the lawyer, and far more unfair to label lawyers as a whole. Of course there will be bad apples, but there are many who exist in our legal system simply because they want justice to be served, and are not self-serving. It may be wise for some of you insult-slingers to step back for a moment, and think that just perhaps, not everyone out there is the slimy, made-for-tv type you have them pegged as.

Of course, the lawyer could be a d-bag for all I know. My point is, don't jump to conclusions or make assumptions! We all know what happens when we assume...

I think the judge is right. It is only fair that the lawyer and original complainer get paid the same way as everyone else. I think sending it to the paper was a good decision too. Maybe if lawyers were treated the same as some of their customers maybe some of the dumber lawsuits would go away. If you do not realize that coffee is hot, or you get fat eating fast food 3 times a day 7 days a week, you shouldn't get to sue in such a way that you make money and neither should the lawyer.


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