Judge rejects attempt to oust lawyers from GM ignition-switch trials

Push for new counsel after botched proceeding is 'to miss the forest for a single tree.'

A federal judge has denied a motion that sought to oust lead counsel for plaintiffs suing General Motors over deaths and injuries caused by faulty ignition switches.

In a rebuke to the lawyer who filed the motion, District Judge Jesse M. Furman wrote, though it was easy to criticize decisions "with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight," the push to remove three lawyers leading the multi-district litigation did "not even come close" to meeting the legal basis for doing so. Furman said accusations laid out in the motion filed by Georgia lawyer Lance Cooper two weeks ago were "sometimes wild" and amounted to a "broadside" against court-appointed co-lead counsel Robert Hilliard, Steve Berman and Elizabeth Cabraser.

With Wednesday's decision, "the court hopes to lift any cloud of uncertainty hovering over the status," of the proceedings, Furman wrote. "The Court also hopes the plaintiffs' counsel will stop litigating their grievances with one another (especially though the press) and return to focusing on their common adversary."

"To focus on the outcome of the first bellwether trial – as the Cooper Plaintiffs largely do – is to miss the forest for a single tree." - Jesse M. Furman

The dispute amounted to infighting between prominent lawyers who should be allies in the litigation against General Motors. Cooper, who helped expose the deadly flaws in GM ignition switches two years ago, had asked the judge to appoint new lead counsel and reconsider the schedule of at least 20 pending cases, accusing the lead lawyers of engineering the trial schedule in a way that maximized their own profits and secured control of future cases.

Cooper filed his motion days after the first in a series of high-profile cases regarding the ignition switches fell apart. Robert Scheuer, the plaintiff whose case Hilliard picked to go first, may have presented doctored evidence at trial last month, and Hilliard was forced to withdraw the case. Cooper called it an "embarrassing retreat" that harmed all the cases, but Furman disagreed. "To focus on the outcome of the first bellwether trial – as the Cooper Plaintiffs largely do – is to miss the forest for a single tree," Furman wrote, noting GM faces at least 25 trials related to the ignition switches.

The three lead lawyers felt vindicated by Wednesday's ruling.

"The court's opinion and the needs of our clients take precedence over unwarranted, time-wasting motions, and we will continue to focus on tenaciously leading this litigation," Berman said. "We look forward to continuing to best represent the plaintiffs in this case against GM who have been victim to its egregious actions – they are what matter most."

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