News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Fees for opt-out plaintiffs undecided

A decision on whether or not wildfire plaintiffs should pay fees to attorneys they opted out of hiring is still pending after parties argued the matter Dec. 1 in Multnomah County Circuit Court.

Plaintiff attorneys in James et al vs. PacifiCorp have asked for a “common benefit fee” of 20% of damages from other lawsuits involving the Santiam, Obenchain, Echo Mountain and 242 fires.

Judge Steffan Alexander took the matter under advisement Dec. 1 after asking attorneys multiple questions on the issue, and as of press time had yet to enter a ruling.

A Portland jury found PacifiCorp liable for the fires in June and James attorneys argued this laid a foundation that benefits similar cases.

During the Dec. 1 hearing, James attorney Matthew Preusch said the fee was necessary because “It’s clear opt-out counsel has been riding the coattails of (James) counsel.”            

He said it was important for his colleagues to be compensated for their work, and to set a standard by which other attorneys can collect payment for landmark verdicts.

George McCoy, who represents roughly 430 fire survivors who opted out of James, called the request “a heist of fees” and said it ignores his clients’ decision to seek alternative counsel. He said James attorneys have made no meaningful efforts to settle with PacifiCorp, and because his clients are open to settlement their work differs from the trial prep undertaken for James.

Among issues raised by Alexander was the possibility of setting a lower fee percentage, or to assess a fee based on the extent to which opt-out plaintiffs’ attorneys relied on the June verdict. He made a point of saying he had not chosen any specific solution and was exploring options.

PacifiCorp has also objected to the fee request on the grounds that it may stifle efforts to reach future settlements.

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