Counsel’s conflict, misconduct bar class certification in tax sale suit

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A federal judge cited an attorney’s conflict of interest, misconduct and relative inexperience in rejecting his bid to certify a class in a lawsuit over costs of redeeming property after tax sales.

District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson in the District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Terre Haute Division, denied the motion for class certification in Joshua B. Crissen v. Vinod C. Gupta, et al., 2:12-cv-00355.

Crissen, who redeemed his Greene County property after it was sold at a county tax sale, sought to represent a class of people who redeemed property purchased at tax sales by defendants. He claimed redemption prices were inflated by the inclusion of notification or title costs defendants didn’t incur.

In a 35-page order, Magnus-Stinson noted Crissen’s counsel, St. Louis attorney Jesse Rochman, is the son of Barrett Rochman, a competitor of Vinod Gupta. Magnus-Stinson also noted Barrett Rochman “recently pled guilty and received a sentence of sixteen months in federal prison for entering into a scheme with former Madison County, Illinois Treasurer Fred Bathon whereby property tax sales were structured ‘in a way that eliminated competition and increased interest rates for Rochman and other tax buyers in exchange for campaign contributions.’”  

“In sum, the instigation of this lawsuit by Barrett Rochman (one of Vinod Gupta’s biggest business competitors), through Jesse Rochman, with the stated goal of gaining a competitive advantage, and counsel’s familial and attorney-client relationship with Barrett Rochman preclude any finding that counsel would adequately represent the class,” Magnus-Stinson wrote.

“While there do not appear to be any cases where courts have dealt with the issue of whether class counsel are inadequate because they have ties to the defendant’s business competitor, the Court finds that this is an ‘other matter pertinent to counsel’s ability to fairly and adequately represent the interests of the class,’” she wrote.

The order also recounts prior sanctions against plaintiff’s counsel, and the judge warned further misconduct would result in dismissal of the case. “The misconduct Mr. Crissen’s counsel have engaged in – both individually on the part of Jesse Rochman and collectively – creates a serious doubt that counsel will represent the class loyally and jeopardizes the Court’s ability to reach a just and proper outcome in the case.”

Magnus-Stinson also found that a prior class action Jesse Rochman initiated in Illinois reflected negatively his ability to adequately represent the class. Proposed as a prospective class of more than 2,100 plaintiffs alleging damages of more than $1 million, “(u)ltimately, only three class members filed claims, prompting the court ... to remark ‘I’ve got three cases, really, that, you know, would have probably been given about five minutes in a small claims court, and that’s what I have.’”

Magnus-Stinson requested a magistrate schedule a conference to set a schedule to bring Crissen’s claims to conclusion.



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