Castille: $4 Mil. Cy Pres 'Heaven' Sent for Indigent
Cy pres awards totaling over $4 million from an automobile class action lawsuit have been distributed evenly to the state IOLTA board and Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, under an order of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.
The residual funds from the $5.6 million verdict of Samuel-Bassett v. Kia Motors America have been disbursed to Pennsylvania's Interest on Lawyers' Trust Accounts board and CLS, one year after Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Mark I. Bernstein's ruling, in accordance with Rule 1716 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure.
Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille praised Bernstein's ruling, noting that the roughly $2 million apiece sent to IOLTA and CLS were timely and put toward a worthy cause.
"Funding has been declining from a variety of sources and this is money that's going to people who need it badly for legal services," he said. "This is like manna from heaven."
Castille said that Rule 1716 was important because the need for finding alternate ways to fund legal services to impoverished defendants has become more difficult since funding to the judicial system at the state and federal levels has significantly diminished. "When I found out we were able to direct that money, I had the rule written. Half of the cy pres awards in the state will be given to the IOLTA fund so that they could provide legal services to the indigent," he said.
Rule 1716 states that in addition to disbursing 50 percent of the cy pres money to IOLTA, the other portion is to be given to "another entity for purposes that have a direct or indirect relationship to the objectives of the underlying class action, or which otherwise promote the substantive or procedural interests of the members of the class." The court passed the rule unanimously in May 2012.
Pennsylvania has benefited from cy pres rulings from other states as well, Castille said, referencing a class action lawsuit that occurred in Washington.
"The cy pres left over was $20 million. Washington could only take $6 million but the other $14 million they distributed to states that had the cy pres rule," Castille said. "That happened six weeks after we passed the rule. So they gave Pennsylvania $2.7 million. We divided that up into two years' funding, half of it the first year, half of it the second year."
The plaintiffs attorney in Samuel-Bassett, Alan Feldman of Feldman Shepherd Wohlgelernter Tanner Weinstock & Dodig, was also complimentary of Bernstein's ruling, and of the Supreme Court's decision to establish Rule 1716.
Feldman said that before the rule, cy pres money did not necessarily have to go to funding public legal services.