More than 100 lawyers from all around the country packed into a San Diego courtroom yesterday in an attempt to stake their claim to the lion’s share of any settlements that come from the multitude of federal lawsuits filed against Toyota in recent weeks.
Since Toyota announced the recall of more than 8 million vehicles, around 140 lawsuits have been filed in federal courts. But as those suits become consolidated and streamlined, it becomes increasingly important — at least to the plaintiffs’ lawyers — just where those cases will be heard.
Attorneys based in whichever of the 19 judicial jurisdictions gets the case stand a better chance of being selected to lead the litigation, and therefore stand to earn some major money.
Thus, you get the zoo that appeared before the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation yesterday. To make things move along as quickly as possible, each district had to decide which attorney or attorneys would plead their case during the allotted two minutes before the panel.
It was a scene the Wall Street Journal likened to speed-dating:
One attorney argued for a Wyoming court setting, telling the [panel] how quickly cases move through the system there. Another sung the praises of a Louisiana judge who managed to keep cases moving along even as Hurricane Katrina barreled down. A third pitched for California, where Toyota’s U.S. headquarters is based, saying it was the “center of gravity” of the cases.
A lawyer representing Toyota was on hand to tell that the car giant would like to A) see the cases consolidated into as few as possible and B) would prefer to have the cases heard in the Central District of California, both because it’s near the company’s U.S. HQ in Torrance and because the state’s relative proximity to Japan would make it easier for any witnesses traveling to and from the company’s global headquarters.
The panel is expected to make its decision public in 2-6 weeks.