(Reuters) – The judges overseeing the litigation regarding contaminated water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune have named attorneys from Lieff Cabraser, Keller Postman, Bell Legal Group and four other law firms to a seven-member leadership team for the plaintiffs.
The four judges of the Eastern District of North Carolina in an order released on Wednesday selected J. Edward Bell III of Bell Legal Group as lead counsel. The judges also named attorneys Zina Bash of Keller Postman, Elizabeth Cabraser of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, Mike Dowling of The Dowling Firm, Robin Greenwald of Weitz & Luxenberg, James Roberts III of Lewis & Roberts and Mona Lisa Wallace of Wallace & Graham as co-lead counsel.
The seven lawyers are tasked with managing settlement talks, discovery, selecting cases for bellwether trials and communicating with the public about the cases, which currently total about 1,100, according to Court Clerk Peter Moore Jr.
The co-leads and their firms will also foot the bill for the majority of the work done for the common benefit of the plaintiffs, the order notes. Plaintiffs’ attorneys typically receive payment and reimbursement for their expenses when a case resolves with a judgment or settlement. The judges selected Bash to also serve as government liaison as it wades through more than 70,000 administrative claims brought against the U.S. Navy. Bash said she has been meeting with government officials for nearly a year to work towards a resolution and believes her role will “significantly accelerate our progress. Dowling told Reuters he was “humbled and honored” to be chosen for the leadership team. Cabraser, Greenwald, Roberts and Wallace did not respond to requests for comment.
The litigation over the water comes after President Joe Biden signed the Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act last August, which created a process for claims involving Camp Lejeune. The Department of Health and Human Services has acknowledged that chemicals in the water, which was contaminated from 1953 to 1987, cause cancer and other illnesses and may have affected as many as one million people.
The PACT Act established an administrative claims process for people to seek compensation from the Navy. If those claims are not resolved, it allows for lawsuits to be filed in the Eastern District of North Carolina. New cases continue to be filed nearly every day, court records show.
Bell, who was involved in the drafting of the legislation, estimates his firm has filed more than 30,000 administrative claims and about 85% of the federal lawsuits over Camp Lejeune. He told Reuters the litigation is a “unique experiment,” because it begins after the government has already admitted that the water was contaminated.
He said he expects to meet with the U.S. Department of Justice in the next few weeks, and then the leadership team will begin drafting an order to manage the cases going forward. The Department of Justice declined to comment.