comscore Rule aims cash at nonprofits | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Hawaii News

Rule aims cash at nonprofits

Honolulu Star-Advertiser logo
Unlimited access to premium stories for as low as $12.95 /mo.
Get It Now

A rule adopted by the Hawaii Supreme Court helps clear the way for money left over from class-action lawsuits to be given to nonprofit groups that provide legal services to the poor.

The rule takes effect July 1 and provides guidance on how to distribute money from lawsuits after the plaintiffs, attorney fees and expenses have been paid. Those residual funds include money for plaintiffs who cannot be located or who don’t file claims.

But not immediately clear is how much money will be recovered for the nonprofit groups.

The Hawaii Access to Justice Commission, which is working to increase access to the civil courts by low- and moderate- income Hawaii residents, recommended the rule.

The high court approved it in January.

In the past, court rules did not say where the money should go, opening the way for civil defendants to argue the money should be returned to them, according to the commission.

"Nonprofit organizations providing access to justice have been presented with financial challenges with severely reduced state, city, federal and private contributions, while the needs continue to grow for those they serve," said Daniel Foley, chairman of the commission and a state appeals court judge.

"Providing increased funding to support the efforts of these organizations will serve a compelling public purpose."

Honolulu attorney David Reber, a member of a commission committee that worked on the rule, said a study hasn’t been done on the number of class-action suits that might come under the rule in Hawaii.

But he said the leftover amounts could be "substantial."

He said seven or eight others states have similar rules or laws, including Illinois, where $3 million was collected from class-action cases over the years.

"You have to have the right case, and there has to be residual funds," Reber said.

Reber said he hasn’t seen any figures on the amount of residual funds in prior Hawaii cases, but mentioned one class-action case handled by Honolulu attorney Margery Bronster.

About $100,000 in residual money was given to the Hawaii Foodbank and the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii.

The defendant wanted the money back, but after extensive negotiations an agreement was reached to give the money to the two groups, according to the commission.

The groups that would qualify for the money under the high court rule include the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, the University of Hawaii Elder Law Program, Voluntary Legal Services Hawaii and the Domestic Violence Action Center.

Under the rule, state judges must approve which groups get the funds "as agreed to by the parties" in the class-action cases.

Reber said the judges will work with the parties to reach an agreement, but said it’s unclear what would happen if an agreement can’t be reached.

He said he thinks the rule would also apply to class-action suits that are pending as of July 1.

Comments have been disabled for this story...

Click here to see our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. Submit your coronavirus news tip.

Be the first to know
Get web push notifications from Star-Advertiser when the next breaking story happens — it's FREE! You just need a supported web browser.
Subscribe for this feature

Scroll Up