Judge weighs legal fees in $190 million settlement

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BALTIMORE (AP) — A Baltimore judge is weighing what percentage of a $190 million settlement to earmark for lawyers representing more than 8,000 women.

A judge heard arguments Thursday from attorneys representing thousands of former patients of Dr. Nikita Levy, a gynecologist who was fired from a Johns Hopkins-affiliated clinic in February of 2013 after a colleague raised concerns that he was secretly recording women during exams with a spy camera. Levy committed suicide days after investigators raided his home and recovered hundreds of images and videos.

Hopkins agreed to pay the women $190 million in July, and the settlement was finalized on Sept. 19.

The plaintiffs' attorneys, from eight firms, are asking for 35 percent of the settlement, roughly $66.5 million. But an attorney filed an objection to the proposed fees, arguing the number is too high.

On Thursday, the women's lead attorney Jonathan Schochor argued that the case, which he said is the largest single-physician sex abuse case on record, proved such an undertaking for attorneys involved that $66.5 million is both fair and reasonable.

Schochor told Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Sylvester Cox that he and other attorneys spent thousands of hours interviewing women, many of them deeply traumatized, in order to prepare for the case and earn a settlement Schochor called "historic." Schochor said his firm alone interviewed roughly 2,000 women.

"We find ourselves having to defend ourselves rather than celebrating with our clients," Schochor said on Thursday. "We're managing 9,000 clients, it's a daunting undertaking.

"This is results-driven," Schochor said of the proposed legal fee percentage, "and it's the best result in the history of the United States."

But Barry Diamond, an attorney representing one former patient of Levy's, filed an objection to the proposed legal fees earlier this week alleging ethical violations on the part of the lawyers representing the women, and arguing that the fee is too high.

Diamond told Cox on Thursday that a lower fee for attorneys means more money for the plaintiffs. But he focused his argument primarily on what Diamond alleged is a conflict of interest: that Schochor and other attorneys represent both the class itself, comprised of between 8,000-9,000 women, and roughly 4,000 individual women within the class. Diamond argued that as a result, the attorneys could potentially prioritize benefits for their clients over other class members.

Cox did not rule from the bench, but told attorneys his decision is forthcoming.

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