The status conference was brief, but the courtroom was packed. Every available seat was taken, and some would-be attendees couldn’t fit inside. It was a brief, fairly efficient proceeding. The highlights:
- Chin asked the parties how they planned to proceed. Michael Boni, speaking for them all, said they hoped to offer an amended settlement in early November, with a final fairness hearing in late December or early January. This is a very aggressive schedule, and it puts to rest my theory that the parties were stalling for time.
- Judge Chin said that schedule was agreeable to him. He specifically set November 9 as the new date for submission of the amended settlement. He said that a delay of many months “would not be acceptable to the Court.”
- The parties plan to renotice, but with an abbreviated period. They expect the supplemental notice will cover only the amendments, and that objections will be confined to the amendments. There will be a fresh opportunity to opt-out or to opt-in. Judge Chin indicated his general approval of this plan. This is a significant limitation
- Boni indicated that the amended notice would largely explain additional “benefits” to the class. That could be interpreted as his lawyerly spin on the changes, an indication that about their scope, or both.
- Boni said that the parties were working daily to negotiate the amended settlement in communication with the DoJ and “in tandem” with the DoJ. William Cavanaugh from the DoJ then spoke briefly, at Judge Chin’s request, to say that while it was having ongoing discussions with the parties, it had not yet seen the proposed amendments.
- There’s currently a January 5, 2010 deadline for copyright owners to file claim forms for cash payments; in light of the schedule slippage, the parties expect to extend that deadline until June 5, 2010.
- Judge Chin asked about the state of discovery, in case the settlement talks break down. Daralyn Durie, representing Google, said that it would be “premature” to address that issue. Boni indicated that the parties had conducted document production and review running to “millions of pages,” but had not conducted any depositions.
- Judge Chin asked about ways to make the submission process easier. The court has a single scanner, and spent four straight days scanning the hard-copy submissions. The Clerk’s office, however, is concerned about asking non-lawyers to use the electronic filing system. Judge Chin asked about the possibility of an email address for electronic submission of comments and objections, possibly through the settlement administration site. Boni said that the settlement agreement requires that objections be served on the parties, so they would be happy to take on the scanning burden.
Judge Chin is trying to move this case, and his overall attitude seemed to be that he wants as clean a record as possible, and soon, so that he can act on it. That would incline me to think that he is hoping to be able to approve the settlement, or at the least to kick some of the legal issues upstairs to the Second Circuit for its guidance. His desire to make the filing process online—thematically appropriate, in this case—is appealing, but I fear that there is such distrust of the parties and of class counsel in this case, that leaving the processing of objections in their hands will not be a palatable solution to many who have concerns about the settlement.
In any event, we are now all set for continuing drama throughout the fall.