Keeping Everyone Informed: Electronic Resources & Case Management

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28Feb2011

Keeping Everyone Informed: Electronic Resources & Case Management

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email inboxOnce a case is filed, there is the problem of keeping your clients and the public informed of developments in the case. This is particularly true when it is a class action or there are many named parties involved. You have a duty to keep your clients briefed, but can’t spend all your time fielding calls from them.

As the USDC N. Cal. stated in its commentary to Civil Local Rule 23-2, “Notification to class members traditionally involves a combination of mailings and newspaper advertisements that are expensive, employ small type, convey little substantive information and that may be difficult for members of the class to locate.”

With the increasing availability of Internet services, many courts and law firms are now using electronic means to disseminate the information.

Shareholder Lawsuits

Following the passage of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (PSLRA) in 1995, the USDC for the Northern District of California, where nearly 20% of the shareholder suits are filed, promulgated a solution (Civil Local Rule 23-2) requiring that all documents related to shareholder suits in its district be posted at a designated internet site for ready public access.

The court’s commentary to the rule states that, “Civil L.R. 23-2 is designed to capitalize on the potentially substantial benefits of the Internet for class members, counsel, and the court while imposing de minimus costs… Clients will be able easily to monitor developments in litigation pursued on their behalf. Courts and counsel will be able to observe litigation developments over a broader span of disputes and thereby become better informed with regard to emerging issues in this complex area of the law.”

Designated Internet Sites

Two such sites have since been set up. The first and most comprehensive site is the Securities Class Action Clearinghouse set up by the Robert Crown Law Library at Stanford University (securities.stanford.edu). This site has expanded beyond just posting documents for USDC N. Cal. and now contains varying degrees of information on shareholder suits filed against over 440 companies in both federal and state courts throughout the country.

The site is organized by company, since a single company may have various lawsuits filed against it in state and federal courts based on the same basic claims. On the site you will find summaries of the complaints, dockets and complete texts of many of the filings.

Also of interest on the Stanford site are the periodic studies done by Michael A. Perino and others on how the PSLRA has impacted the quantity of securities litigation, how plaintiff attorneys have adapted their strategies as a result of the new law and different interpretations various district and circuit courts are giving to key provisions of the act.

One of the main plaintiff’s firms, Milberg, Weiss, Bershad, Hynes & Lerach, LLP, citing disagreements “with the political, economic and legal views” of the creator of the Stanford website, has created their own designated internet site which covers shareholder class action cases the firm has filed against 70 different companies. You can visit their site at securities.milberg.com

Court Operated Sites

Courts have also been setting up their own sites to keep people informed about developments in certain cases.

Judge Sam Pointer of the USDC N. Alabama has set up his own site on the Breast Implant Cases (MDL 926) — http://www.fjc.gov/BREIMLIT/mdl926.htm. The site has case orders, the calendar and status information on the more than 27,000 cases assigned to his court.

Unabomber case documents can be viewed at www.caed.uscourts.gov.

The Norplant cases have a site with the Eastern District of Texas (http://www.txed.uscourts.gov/) which gives the rulings in the cases.

In California state courts, the breast implant litigation has a site at http://www.sdcourt.ca.gov/portal/page?_pageid=55,1&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL

Unofficial Sites

Various entities have posted some or all of the documents relating to particular types of suits. For example, there is the State Tobacco Information Center (stic.neu.edu), run by a former Maine Attorney General, which provides information on litigation being conducted by the Attorneys General of 41 states. Tens of thousands of pages of documents are available at the site, including the much-publicized Minnesota tobacco documents.

Public Citizen’s site (www.citizen.org) gives developments on numerous cases and updates on pending legislation affecting the class action process.

Hundreds of other sites are available, primarily ones hosted by trial lawyers. You can locate these by searching for “class action lawsuits.”

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