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Russell Wangersky: Legal interests rising in bread suit


Russell Wangersky
Russell Wangersky

There's a lot of bread in bread.

Loblaws has started sending the $25 gift cards it promised to partially recompense customers for the company’s role in fixing the price of store-bought bread. Not unexpectedly, the media has been covering the happy and not-so-happy recipients of the cards.

People who applied for the cards had to agree the $25 would be deducted from any settlement they might receive in any future class action law suit.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the legal struggles over what’s bound to be a very lucrative class action lawsuit got going in Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice.

Two large law firms went to court in what’s called a carriage motion to see which one of them would get to represent Ontarians in the case.

The case pitted Strosberg Sasso Sutts LLP on one side against the team of Sotos LLP and Siskinds LLP on the other. (A third legal player, the Merchant Law Group, has started a series of similar actions in western provinces.)

“Litigation is war, and the weak go to the wall,” Harvey T. Strosberg is quoted as saying on the Strosberg website.

The site also says, “Since 1993, Strosberg Sasso Sutts LLP has been a pioneer and leader … We continue to be involved in many of the most important and precedent setting class actions in Canada.”

Sotos? Well, their website is just as bullish: “Sotos LLP is a recognized leader in class action litigation in Canada. We take on complex and challenging class actions across all industries, and prosecute them to conclusion.”

Their partners in their action, Siskinds? Well, here you go: “Individuals can be powerless against large corporations. … Siskinds leverages the power of many, evening the playing field and obtaining results for our clients.”

You get the picture.

But back to the carriage motion.

Strosberg argued they were the rabbits, first out of the gate by launching a legal action a few short days after the Competition Bureau issued a news release saying there was an investigation into the price-fixing.

Sotos? They argued they were the more practical tortoise.

“Sotos took a more cautious approach than Strosberg,” the judge hearing the motion wrote. “It is Sotos’ view that by waiting before jumping into the litigation arena, they avoided the potential for serious embarrassment and serious costs for (their clients).”

In the judge’s words, “Both firms concede that Strosberg was earlier off the mark in pursuing the case. Strosberg sees itself as more energetic and effective as class counsel; Sotos sees Strosberg’s early lead as a sign of a rash flight into the unknown.”

The rabbit won this round. Strosberg will represent the Ontario class action members.

It’s a lot of fight for bread — but there’s a lot involved.

If I’m reading the $100-million settlement right, a recent sexual harassment class action against the RCMP will see the law firms involved receive as much as $27 million.

I’m not saying the lawyers involved aren’t going to do their absolute best to help their clients’ cause. What I am saying is those firms aren’t charities, and that their work on behalf of their clients is billable time.

I remember one recent case, also in Ontario, where a class action went sideways and was settled for a $250,000 payment. Of that money, $5,000 went to the individual who was the named party in the case, $165,000 went to the lawyers, and $80,000 to the Investors’ Protection Clinic at the Osgoode Hall Law School.

There’s dough in class action lawsuits, even ones over bread. But who gets the biggest single slice? Usually the law firms.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 39 SaltWire newspapers in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at On Twitter, he's @wangersky

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