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9th Circuit Boots Judge From BarBri Case to 'Preserve Justice'

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. | Last updated on

The Ninth Circuit booted U.S. District Judge Manuel Real from a now recurring antitrust case involving Kaplan and West Publishing (makers of BarBri), while reversing his ruling. The circuit's decision might have appeared inevitable to some, given that Real's rulings on previous antitrust cases involving BarBri have been reversed three times in a separate case.

There are many interesting facets to the case. One question lawyers will be left asking is what judge Real's rational was in slashing attorneys' fee numbers by 70 percent? Why ask? Because he certainly didn't provide any explanation in his now overturned opinion.

"To Preserve the Appearance of Justice"

The Ninth Circuit had harsh words for Judge Manuel Real's ruling and past rulings with regards to reduction of attorneys fees in the current and past suits involving West Publishing's BarBri, the popular and ubiquitous bar exam preparation program. It justified its decision to remove Real from the bench by concluding that Real would have "substantial difficulty in putting out of his .... mind" past erroneous viewpoints on the subject and that it was in the best interests of justice to have him removed.

Prior Reversals

Real's decisions to reduce attorney fee awards have been numerous. And the court of appeals has reversed his decisions with embarrassing frequency. in 2009, the Ninth Circuit overturned his approval of and attorney fees award of a suit involving $49 million in settlement monies. In 2015, Real reduced attorneys fees to a law firm in another BarBri related case down to $236,000 when in fact, those attorneys were entitled to fees closer to $315,000.

The Present Case

In the present case, the numbers were a bigger. The award for the class participants amounted to approximately $9 million and the attorneys fees sought were $1.9 million. But Real reduced that number down to $585,000. Reimbursement of $50,000 was also reduced by Real down to $20,000.

"Gratified by the Ninth Circuit Decision"

It's been eight years of contentious litigation spent battling, but lawyers for the class announced in an email to National Law Journal that they were "gratified" by the Ninth Circuit's decision. It appears that counsel decided to opt for the classy route choose less "fighty" words in voicing frustration over Real's attempts to frustrate lawyers' fees.

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