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September 13, 2009

Ameritrade settlement one step closer to approval

Six million customers and former customers of Ameritrade (of which I am one) will unfortuantely have to wait a little while longer to learn if the proposed settlement regarding the theft of their personal information will be approved.  A hearing was held before U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco on Thursday.  Judge Walker, who gave preliminary approval to the settlement way back in May, took the issue under advisement and will issue his ruling at a later date.  No indication as to how much later that date is going to be.

Anyone who either provided an e-mail address to Ameritrade or held an account there before September 14, 2007 will be able to benefit from the settlement.  Unfortunately, even if the settlement is approved, that doesn't mean much to you, me and the rest of the 6 million affected.  The settlement will pay nearly $1.9 million to the attorneys for legal fees.  I have little problem with the amount of attorneys' fees, except for the fact that the plaintiffs will get zip, nada, nothing in the way of cash.  The plaintiffs will receive one year of anti-spam software.  Woop-tee-doo.  Does anyone else think the plaintiffs should at least get enough to buy a happy meal?! 

While I realize the whole point of class actions is stop many little wrongs that, taken alone, are not worth the cost of correcting, but c'mon, the attorneys get $1.9 million and the plaintiffs don't get $.01?  Doesn't sound fair to me.  I have never handled a class action but I know and have worked with attorneys who have.  A tremendous amount of work goes into handling any litigation, but especially a class action.  But still ... shouldn't the injured parties get SOME kind of financial consideration?  I would suspect that most of the 6 million already have anti spam or, if they don't, its because they don't care to have anti-spam software.  So the offer is pretty much worth $0 to most of the 6 million, or so I would suspect.  Pretty crappy, if you ask me.

I have settled cases in the past where I ended up with more than my client, but its usually because I sunk a lot of my own cash into expenses in the case that I was not guaranteed to get back.  When the case settled, I got my percentage plus reimbursement of my expenses, which in some case nets me more of the final settlement but only because I have put my money at risk rather than my client's.  But I have never settled a case where my client got nothing in the way of compensation.  And I hope I never will.

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