We often hear critics of class action litigation complain that judges just "rubber stamp" settlements that often benefit only the lawyers, and not the class members whom the class action laws are intended to protect. Those critics must not be collecting their empirical data from Orange County. In the Orange County Superior Court's complex litigation program, the judges closely scrutinize settlements, even if the defendants and plaintiffs agree that everything is good and fair.
For example, last week, Judge Stephen Sundvold denied certification and preliminary approval of a wage and hour class action settlement in Alvarez v. Dastmalchi. In so doing, the court began by observing that "in general terms the Settlement is satisfactory," but there are some areas which need to be resolved, including:
The settlement can still be approved if the parties go back and make sure everything complies with both the letter and spirit of the law. That is as it should be.
Advocates for lawbreaking corporations who want to avoid liability by restricting class action remedies claim that frivolous class action settlements are making greedy lawyers rich while the courts rubber stamp their back room deals. It just isn't happening. The courts review these deals carefully, not just at the "big picture" issues, but the finer details, too.