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GTL Ordered to Pay $18.675 Million in Attorney Fees and Costs in Prison Phone Class Action

by Anthony W Accurso

On August 30, 2022, the federal court for the Northern District of Georgia granted final approval to a class-action settlement in a suit accusing prison telecom giant Global Tel*Link (GTL) of unjust enrichment by seizing funds from prisoner phone accounts after as little as 90 days of inactivity. The Court also ordered GTL to pay class counsel $18.675 million in fees and costs.

The suit was filed by Georgia Public Defender Benson Githieya in 2015, a year after he funded an account with GTL’s AdvancedPay service so that his cousin in a South Carolina prison could call him. GTL seized the money in the account after 90 days of inactivity. Githieya then filed his initial complaint at the Court. By the time the suit was settled in 2021, GTL had seized $96 million from similarly situated prisoners and their families over nearly 10 years. So the firm got off relatively easy with a $67 million settlement for the class – especially since a significant portion of that may never be claimed. [See: PLN, Apr. 2022, p.32.]

The case proved a massive administrative undertaking. Since granting the settlement preliminary approval, the Court said that “9,854,668 direct notices were delivered by mail or email, and publication notice resulted in more than 180 million media impressions.” By the deadline, “Settlement Class Members had submitted more than 232,000 claims, representing approximately 410,000 GTL AdvancePay Accounts,” the Court noted. Only one class member objected, and just seven opted out to pursue their own remedies against GTL.

Judge Amy Totenberg then praised class counsel, who “tackled the major challenges of negotiating nationwide class relief with great legal skill, persistence, flexibility, and creativity” as they navigated “difficult twists and turns both in litigation of liability and negotiation of a class-wide remedy.”

Finding the amounts they requested reasonable and just, the Court awarded $18,425,000 in fees and $250,000 in expenses to class counsel, which was managed by the Atlanta law firm of Caplan Cobb LLP, along with Radford & Keebaugh, LLC in Decatur and Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho in Oakland, California. See: Githieya v. Glob. Tel*Link Corp., USDC (N.D. Ga.), Case No. 1:15-CV-00986. 

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