A leading Georgia Law expert on complex litigation, Professor Elizabeth Chamblee Burch, recently presented on the subject at an international conference at the Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law in Israel.
Entitled “Fifty Years of Class Actions – A Global Perspective,” the 2-day conference brought together scholars not only from the United States and Israel, but also from Australia, Canada, Chile, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, and the Netherlands.
Professor Burch, who holds the Charles H. Kirbo Chair of Law at the University of Georgia School of Law, spoke on the topic of “Publicly Funded Objectors.” Commenting on her paper was Dr. Eran Taussig, an attorney and lecturer at several universities in Israel.
Here’s the abstract:
On paper, class actions run like clockwork. But practice suggests the need for tune-ups: judges still approve settlements rife with red flags, and professional objectors may be more concerned with shaking down class counsel than with improving class members’ outcomes. The lack of data on the number of opt-outs, objectors, and claims rates fuels debates on both sides, for little is known about how well or poorly class members actually fare. This reveals a ubiquitous problem: information barriers confront judges, objectors, and even reformers.
Rule 23’s answer to information barriers is to empower objectors. At best, objectors are a partial fix. They step in as the adversarial process breaks down in an attempt to resurrect the information-generating function that culture creates. And, as the proposed changes to Rule 23’s handling of objectors reflect, turmoil exists over how to encourage noble objectors that benefit class members while staving off those that namely seek rents from class counsel.
Yet, this concern about screening the bad from the good has distracted us from both the bigger question and the true challenge. The bigger question is how we ensure that judges have the necessary information (and incentive) to monitor the attorneys and ensure that the settlement is fair when the adversarial system breaks down. And the real challenge is how we confront the intense regulatory struggle that arises anytime private actors perform public functions.
Addressing the public-private challenge can generate possibilities for overcoming information deficits. Our class-action scheme is not the only one that relies on private actors to perform public functions: citizens privately fund political campaigns, and private lobbyists provide research and information to lawmakers about public bills and policies. Across disciplines, the best responses to those challenges have often been to level up, not down. As such, this Essay proposes a leveling up approach to address judges’ information deficit such that they can better perform their monitoring role. By relying on public funds to subsidize nonprofit objectors’ information-gathering function, we can disrupt private class counsel’s disproportionate influence.