Our Interesting Cases and Clients
In over a century of representing our neighbors and their businesses, you would expect that we would have had a number of notable successes. In fact, we have reached settlements that resulted in the recovery of over $100 Million for our clients in recent years. Not bad for a little county seat law firm with about a dozen lawyers.
So, too, have we had the opportunity to do good for society and our clients. And you’d think that in over a century, we would have represented a number of unique folks involved in complex and interesting matters. Indeed, we have done all of those things and just a few follow. These don’t necessarily involve matters with the most money. We just think they are among the most interesting and diverse things Mitchell DeClerck has done in our 120 plus year existence.
$100 Million Electric Coop Case
In 2010 we initiated a class action lawsuit in Cobb County near Atlanta, Georgia against Cobb EMC that it should have returned $286 million to its member-owners but was kept by the electric coop instead.
Four years and thousands of hours of work later more than 77,000 people – our clients – who used Cobb EMC as their electric provider received checks because of the highly successful settlement we obtained early in 2014.
Our $100 million settlement was the largest class-action settlement in Cobb County’s history. You might not have heard of Cobb County but when the Atlanta Braves play baseball next year in their new ballpark, it will be in Cobb County.
Critics of class actions – typically large corrupt corporations or their mouthpieces – often bemoan that class members receive little money or paper coupons in settlements. Not so. The Cobb EMC class action settlement payouts range from fewer than $100 to several million dollars.
The “first wave” of distributions totaling $24.6 million in checks are shown on the pallets at right. More followed.
Recovering pallets of money for our clients who were wronged. That pleases us.
$16 Million Gold Bank Case
Late in 2004 the Firm successfully recovered $16 Million for you and other American Taxpayers under an action it filed in 2002 using the Federal False Claims Act (FCA) against Gold Bank. The former Enid branch of Gold Bank is pictured. Gold Bank no longer does business there. The case was filed in 2002 in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. The False Claims Act was originally known as the Lincoln Law when enacted in 1863 to fight fraud on the Union Army by unscrupulous defense contractors during the American Civil War. The False Claims Act is one of the Firms areas of concentrations in which it has achieved major success. One of its recoveries at the time placed it on the list of the Top 100 Recoveries in the 140 year history of the False Claims Act.
Historian Angie Debo
One of Oklahoma's most accomplished but little known citizens was educator, historian and author Dr. Angie Debo. Dr. Debo was a leading scholar of Indian history, and her work has been cited as evidence in federal court cases involving tribal land rights. Her classic work And Still the Waters Run: The Betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes published by Princeton University Press after much controversy in 1940 has been in print for over 70 years.
Dr. Debo’s portrait hangs in the Oklahoma State Capital, seen at the right, with that of humorist Will Rogers and Indian athlete Jim Thorpe.
In 1993 Debo was inaugurated to the Oklahoma Historians Hall of Fame. The Angie Debo Elementary School in Oklahoma City is named in her honor as well as a state highway.
She has been the subject of numerous books and a PBS American Experience television documentary: Indians, Outlaws and Angie Debo. Debo's papers are on file at Oklahoma State University’s Edmond Lowe Library.
Our late partner Ed DeClerck represented Angie before her death in 1988. She wrote a total of nine books, edited others and published many articles in different journals, including Harper’s Magazine. Her last book, Geronimo: The Man, His Time, His Place, was finished when she was 85 years old. Angie once said: “I am sometimes asked to state my ‘goals and ambitions in writing’. I suppose I have only one: to discover truth and publish it.”
$8 Million Gold Class Action
In 2004 we filed a class action on behalf of about 400 farm families living in Oklahoma and Kansas (the “Gold Class Action”). These farmers, who had been customers of Gold Bank, had been harmed by Gold Bank's abuse of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency’s guaranteed lending program designed to benefit Gold Bank’s own farmer customers. This Gold Class Action case sought to help the farmers recover the damage they suffered by Gold Bank’s fraud on them and the United States Government similar to what we found in out Gold Bank Qui Tam lawsuit. This Gold Class Action case sought to help the farmers recover the damage they suffered by Gold Bank’s fraud on them and the United States Government similar to what we found in out Gold Bank Qui Tam lawsuit. In the Qui Tam case we collected $16 Million for the American Taxpayers under the Federal False Claims Act. In November 2006 the District Judge approved the $8 Million settlement we reached in the Gold Class Action. This case was filed in Kingfisher County, Oklahoma District Court which will benefit our farmer clients. Our clients in the Gold Class Action all received substantial money – and some tens of thousands of dollars – for their damage they suffered. We are happy we could help so many of our farmer clients.
The Despacing Cases
During the last oil boom in the early 1980”s, we were retained by W. T. “Bud” Massey to represent over a thousand of his landowner lessors in what came to be known as the Despacing Cases. In Mitchell DeClerck’s 120 plus years we’ve seen a number of these “booms” followed by crashes. Massey had obtained oil and gas leases (the “Top Leases”) on hundreds of thousands of acres of farm land from Northwest Oklahoma farmers that would only be good if existing leases expired (the “Bottom Leases”). He then successfully sought and obtained court orders to cancel the Bottom Leases which big oil companies had been sitting on for decades to the detriment of the farmers. Since oil was then well over $100 a barrel in today’s dollars, a gold rush ensued with others seeking to drill wells to extract the expensive oil to the benefit of our clients and the farmers. Typically the big oil companies tried a myriad of ploys and subterfuges to stop Massey but against overwhelming odds eventually the United States Supreme Court approved what Massey had done. One big oil company attempted to keep one of its leases – after years of inaction – by drilling a well shown above. Massey called its bluff by drilling a competing well a block away knowing if he lost, it would cost him half a million dollars because his well would have to be plugged. It wasn’t. Massey prevailed.
$2 Million Farmers Exchange Case
In 2003 we located yet another bank that had abused the USDA’s Farm Service Agency’s Guaranteed Loan Program to cheat its farmer customers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in excessive interest. The headquarters of that bank, The Farmers Exchange Bank of Cherokee, Oklahoma, is pictured below. Using the little know century old “Lincoln Law” we filed suit on behalf of the United States Government in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. The Lincoln Law allows private “Whistleblowers” with knowledge of fraud against the US Government to act as private attorney generals or “Relators” to bring these actions. Larry Lahman along with his partners Mike Bigheart and Roger Ediger represented two courageous such whistleblowers willing to seek recompense for the American Taxpayers – including you – cheated by this fraud using the Lincoln Law. After considerable work and investigating we convinced the US Department of Justice to join us in our litigation and we eventually negotiated a generous settlement benefiting the American Taxpayers. This settlement was consummated in the spring of 2006 when the Farmers Exchange Bank of Cherokee, Oklahoma paid over $2.1 Million to the United States Government. This brought our recoveries for the American people under the FCA to over $18 Million in just 18 months.
The Movie “Twister”
When Warner Bros. came to Northwest Oklahoma with Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton and Stephen Spielberg in 1996 to film the blockbuster movie Twister, they called on Mitchell DeClerck.
Larry Lahman and Mitchell DeClerck provided legal services of a disparate nature including contracts, real estate and just plain problem solving.
The filming was largely based in the small Grant County town of Wakita, Oklahoma, which now maintains a “Twister Museum”.
We are proud to have played a very minor role in helping bring this movie based on Michael Crichton’s original story to the screen.
At last count the movie ranked in the top 50 of all time box office gross. Twister eventually generated $495 Million in Worldwide box office gross for our clients.
We hope everyone we represent does this well.
$1 Million Wildfire Case
After a long and difficult struggle, Larry Lahman and E. W. “Bill” Shaw of Mitchell DeClerck implemented the distribution of over $1 Million we recovered for the many dozens of landowners who were damaged by the negligence of a crew replacing power lines in northwestern Oklahoma. In 1996 the crew, while working in the middle of a dry grass pasture during record drought conditions and 40 mile per hour winds, caused a massive fire. After being accused of not taking proper safety precautions because they parked their truck facing uphill blocked from the back by the old power pole they were replacing, they asserted they did: "We left the engine running so we could drive out of the fire and put it out." Unfortunately the crew had blocked their escape route by placing the new replacement power pole in front of their truck. When their truck exhaust set fire to the dry grass, they couldn't move and a 100,000 acre wildfire ensued. That wildfire raged over several days, burning tens of thousands of acres in three counties in Oklahoma and Kansas. The wildfire is pictured at the left which ultimately swept over nearly 100,000 acres of range and farm land. Fortunately no lives were lost nor was there serious personal injury. Amazingly none of the cattle shown in the photo were injured. Mitchell DeClerck represented the “class” in a class action filed in 1996. Larry Lahman and Mitchell DeClerck have recovered over $100 Million for classes they have represented in recent years.