The Justice & Diversity Center of The Bar Association of San Francisco (JDC) has received the largest cy pres award in its history. JDC received $800,000 as part of the conclusion of a settlement of multiple cases filed in California Superior Courts against Providian Financial Corporation.
The award brings closure to the cases, which were initially settled in November of 2001. Plaintiffs’ counsel, Kelly Dermody, a partner at Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein and former JDC Board president, delivered the good news to JDC Executive Director Yolanda Jackson last week. Dermody and Eric Gibbs of Girard Gibbs, negotiated the distribution of class benefits, resulting in the disbursement to JDC and three other legal services organizations.
Ms. Jackson noted, “JDC is grateful to Kelly and the other attorneys who played a part in directing this funding to our pro bono legal services program that works directly with low-income consumers. It will ensure our clients are provided meaningful access to justice.”
Cy pres is a legal doctrine embodying the principle of allocating relief “as nearly as possible” to match the underlying intent or nature of a given case’s settlement. When making payments to specific individuals is impracticable, the doctrine allows courts to allocate some or all of a settlement’s funds to charities or organizations otherwise working for the public good. First endorsed by the California Supreme Court in 1986, the principle was embraced by numerous other U.S. courts.
The cy pres funds will benefit JDC’s consumer work, which provides legal assistance to low-income clients struggling with debt including those being sued by unscrupulous third-party debt collectors. Without legal representation, it is almost impossible for litigants to navigate the legal system, as they fail to assert appropriate defenses, and are often saddled with judgments issued against them which leads to their credit being destroyed and their limited incomes further reduced.