US judge OKs fees for lawyers in Marcos class suit

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 12 2019 08:08 PM

American lawyer Robert Swift said he put in "about 41,000 hours of work" in the class suit against the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos and his family. Screengrab

MANILA—The American lawyer who led the successful class suit against the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his family in Hawaii is finally getting paid after more than 3 decades of litigation, his Filipino co-counsel said.

A United States judge has granted a 30-percent attorney’s fee for lead counsel Robert Swift to be sourced from the latest round of compensation for martial law victims under Marcos, said lawyer Rod Domingo.

Under the deal, Swift will get $4.125 million out of the settlement proceeds worth $13.75 million.

“Since 1986, ngayon lang s’ya hihingi ng attorney’s fee,” Domingo told ABS-CBN News, noting the historic significance of the successful class action suit worth nearly $2 billion in Hawaii in 1995.

(Since 1986, it's only now that he asked for an attorney's fee.)

“Mababa pa 'yun considering na sa world history, ito 'yung first human rights case na class suit na nanalo.”

(That's low considering that in world history, this is the first human rights case that's a class suit where [the plaintiffs] won.)

Domingo said the attorney’s fees would also go to several other co-counsels who had been helping in the litigation since 1986.

SETTLEMENT

Swift and his co-counsels have been trying to locate assets of the Marcoses, proceeds of which were distributed to the victims.

On May 1, Swift is set to begin handing out checks worth $1,500 for each of the 6,500 victims who were part of the class suit.

The amount will be sourced from the sale of paintings recovered from Vilma Bautista, a former secretary of the former First Lady, Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Marcos.

The Office of the Solicitor General had tried to block the latest settlement, claiming it was “grossly disadvantageous” to the Philippine government.

A New York judge rejected the opposition and gave the go-signal for the distribution. The Philippine government will receive $4 million under the settlement.

5 PERCENT

Victims belonging to the group, Samahan ng Ex-detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA), earlier sought to block Swift’s request for a 30-percent fee.

“It is utterly unethical to claim for more than 5 percent of the settlement amount as attorney’s fees,” the group wrote in its opposition to the settlement agreement.

Lawyer Jake Lopez, one of the original members of SELDA, said the entire settlement proceeds should be given to the victims.

“I am one of the claimants and my objection is giving this lawyer an additional $4 million out of the $13.75 million that will go to the fund,” he told ABS-CBN News.

INSULT

In an email to ABS-CBN News, Swift described SELDA’s position on a 5-percent counsel’s fee as an “insult and far less than the 15 percent (the group) insisted that class members pay it, in writing, for doing no legal work.”

“No attorney would take a personal injury case on a 5-percent contingency,” he said, noting that the percentage in attorney’s fees usually ranged from 25 to 30 percent.

The litigation against the Marcoses, he said, was “unique in that it includes perhaps 20 different actions, mostly to collect on Marcos property, filed on 3 continents over 33 years.”

Swift said the fee he stood to get was only a fifth of the amount he was supposed to receive “for about 41,000 hours of work.”

Former Commission on Human Rights chair Loretta Ann Rosales, a martial law victim, said her group, Claimants 1081, had once opposed a 30-percent counsel’s fee, but realized the amount was “fair.”

“Why not? Without Bob Swift’s efforts, nothing would come of this,” she told ABS-CBN News.