Saturday, March 19, 2011
Judges Who Settle, by Hillary A. Sale, Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, was recently posted on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
This Article develops a construct of judges as gatekeepers in corporate and securities litigation, focusing on the last-period, or settlement stage of the cases. Many accounts of corporate scandals have focused on gatekeepers and the roles they played or, in some cases, abdicated. Corporate gatekeepers, like investment bankers, accountants, and lawyers, function as enablers and monitors. They facilitate transactions and enable corporate actors to access the financial and securities markets. Without them the transactions would not happen. In class actions and derivative litigation, judges are the monitors and enablers. They are required to oversee the litigation arising from bad transactions and corporate scandals. Unlike other types of private law litigation, where the parties settle and have the case dismissed, judges must approve settlements of class actions and derivative litigation. They are actually charged with fiduciary responsibilities and control the exit stage, or settlement, of the litigation. As a result, the judges’ job is to be a gatekeeper.
The judges are not, however, doing their jobs. “Doing their jobs” requires actual scrutiny of the role of defense counsel and insurers, both of whom amplify agency costs. It also requires scrutiny of the settlement collusion between defendants and plaintiffs. Yet, traditionally both academics and the courts have failed to analyze those issues in the context of the costs of aggregate and derivative litigation. This Article provides a real cut at those issues. It then develops and explores principles for gate keeping judges, which, if implemented, will decrease the agency costs of this type of litigation and ensure that the judges are actually functioning as the fiduciaries they are required to be.