The lead class attorneys who helped secure a $1.25 billion settlement in 2011 for black farmers in a high-profile discrimination case have called on Crowell & Moring and Stinson Morrison Hecker for help on Capitol Hill, according to lobbying registration paperwork filed with Congress on Wednesday.
The firms are keeping members of Congress abreast of the status of the claims process, said Crowell partner Florence Prioleau, who is handling the work with Stinson partner Phillip Fraas. Plaintiffs should start receiving payments from the settlement in about two months, she said.
The settlement, which Congress approved in November 2010 and President Barack Obama signed off on that December, gives money to tens of thousands of black farmers who missed out on an earlier deal with the U.S. Agriculture Department over claims of discrimination in loan processing.
In April, The New York Times reported that the black farmers' claims of bias were often unsupported. Prioleau declined to comment on the story. But NAACP President and Chief Executive Officer Benjamin Jealous wrote in column this month in The Trice Edney News Wire that the newspaper's findings are "simply unfair and untrue."
"Since the first settlement in 1999, a careful process has been in place to weed out potential fraud," Jealous wrote. "All farmers who claimed discrimination were obligated to sign a form under penalty of perjury attesting to the veracity of their claim."
The lead class attorneys who called on Prioleau and Fraas are Henry Sanders of Chestnut, Sanders, Sanders, Pettaway & Campbell in Alabama; Gregorio Francis of Orlando's Morgan & Morgan; and Andrew Marks of Miami's Coffey Burlington. Marks left Crowell in February to join Coffey.
Prioleau said she previously worked with members of Congress to help pass the legislation for the settlement. Fraas, who wasn't immediately available for comment, was a co-lead counsel for the black farmers in Pigford v. Glickman, which led to the settlement in 1999.