This week's settlement in Utah's thrift crisis should sell itself, says one depositor attorney, and depositors "aint going to get a better deal."
More than 200 depositors of five failed thrift and loans crammed into a meeting room Wednesday night and listened to their lawyers explain the settlement approved by the Legislature.The meeting in the Holladay branch library was the first of many meetings lawyers want to hold with the 15,000 depositors, 90 percent of whom must approve the offer, or the deal will be withdrawn.
Robert Stolebarger, a depositor attorney, said he hoped he wouldn't have to sell the settlement to the people.
"It's going to have to sell itself," he said. "If you don't accept it, that doesn't mean we'll abandon you and go home . . . but let me tell you, we ain't going to get a better deal for you."
Stolebarger told depositors that they could take the state to court and possibly get more money, but many of the depositors would never see it. It would take many years to fight the battle in the courts, he said, adding that the median age of the depositors is in the 70s.
Even with the best lawyers and the best case, "You never know what's going to happen in court," he said.
Depositors will soon receive ballots in the mail and will be asked to vote either for the proposed settlement or against it. If more than 10 percent decide to reject the plan, the settlement is gone, he said.
Along with the ballots, a yet-to-be-written disclosure statement that will need court approval will be sent for depositors to study.
While not all of the depositors' money will be immediately returned under the plan, Stolebarger said $103,144,176 or 98.2 percent of the money should be recovered and depositors should get 90 cents for every dollar they lost. The plan does not pay interest lost on the money that's been in limbo the past two years.
But the attorney told the depositors the situation was far from being over. Lawsuits against failed thrift owners, their attorneys and accountants will soon be filed, he said.
"The ones who kept their doors open and let you deposit when they shouldn't have, they are not out of the lawsuit," he said. "(Thrift accountants) who should have alerted us not to put our money in it - they are still in the lawsuit.
"Lawyers who gave bad advice . . . violating their professional standards - they are not out of the lawsuit."
Stolebarger said many people have questioned the fees sought by him and the other attorneys and have accused them of "selling out" to the depositors just to get their fees increased. "It hurts to get your integrity questioned," he said, but admitted that the question of fees is an important one that needs to be agreed upon and understood.
He said the depositors' lawyers will ask the court to set the fee at 25 percent of the $29 million contributed to the settlement by the state and the state's former insurance carrier. The total attorneys' fees are expected to be $7.25 million, he said.
A judge will determine how much the attorneys deserve, but Stolebarger said the likelihood that it would be less than 25 percent is "a tad remote."
"We did this case on a contingency-fee basis because we were asked to do it on a contingency-fee basis," he said. "Depositors wanted us to make up our minds whether this was a case worth fighting for."
Stolebarger said the lawyers have put in an extraordinary amount of time, yet they have not been paid for a year and a half. "I don't think many lawyers would put themselves in that position," he said.
Depositors remained attentive during the 11/2-hour meeting, listening to Stolebarger, who described himself as "a very tired lawyer."
"I know when I see a good deal and I know when I see a lousy deal and this is a good deal," said one depositor, who said he is a businessman of 35 years. "If this is not accepted by the depositors, then we'll have a tough load to carry."
"I feel that any money we get will be better than nothing," said another depositor.
Stolebarger said a committee of depositors that advises the attorneys voted 17-2 Tuesday in favor of the settlement approved by the Legislature. Gary Stratton, one of the two who voted against the plan, told depositors he will now vote differently.
"I was one of the two who voted `no' because I thought there was a good chance of getting more from the state," Stratton said. "We are convinced at this point that . . . it may not be the best deal, but it is the best we're going to get."