Three North Dakota farmers who sued Syngenta in state court claiming they were damaged when China rejected GMO corn are now suing the Texas law firm that represented them. Kenneth P. Kellogg, Rachel Kellogg and Kellogg Farms Inc., all of Monango, N.D., and Roland B. Bromley and Bromley Ranch LLC, Drake, N.D., are the named plaintiffs. They accuse Watts Guerra of imposing inflated fees and keeping them in the dark about the federal class-action lawsuit that has resulted in the preliminary approval of a $1.5 billion settlement to be divided among approximately 600,000 corn growers. The plaintiff growers also are seeking class-action status themselves, and the judge presiding over their case in federal court in Minnesota has scheduled a hearing on that matter for September. The farmers, who signed on with Watts Guerra, say they’re on the hook for 40 percent in fees and that a “secret agreement” filed in the nationwide class-action excludes them from the class. Mikal Watts, who represented about 55,000 growers in a case filed in Minnesota state court, said “every bit of work in this case has been done ethically, following consultations with ethics experts in various states.” And a co-lead counsel in the nationwide class-action said there was no "secret agreement," but there was a publicly filed agreement in which Watts Guerra clients opted out of the "litigation class." But now that the litigation is over, they are automatically part of the "settlement class" and are in line to receive compensation unless they decide to opt out. "Even if they don't submit a claim form, they're part of the settlement class," the lawyer said. The lawyer also said that the Watts plaintiffs’ estimate of 10-12 percent for attorney fees for the farmers in the nationwide class is too low. Although the federal judge presiding over the class-action will ultimately decide what each law firm receives, the attorney fees are more likely to be in the 30-40 percent range. Said Watts: “Under the settlement, the court will set the fees, and I am confident that no farmer will pay more fee than any other farmer.”
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