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Lawyers pitch to lead GM ignition-switch cases

By Jessica Dye

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Lawyers from across the United States gathered in Manhattan Monday to jockey for leadership roles in litigation against General Motors over a faulty ignition switch that has prompted the recall of millions of vehicles.

Nearly 40 lawyers waited for hours to make four-minute pitches to U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman, who is overseeing the cases, during a marathon hearing in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Numerous other lawyers have submitted written applications for one of 15 lead spots in the litigation, which so far consists of 109 cases involving claims over personal injuries and diminished vehicle value related to the recall.

Since February, GM has recalled 2.6 million vehicles over problems with the ignition switch, and has since recalled millions more with other possible defects.

Some well-known lawyers were among those making their cases Monday, including David Boies, a high-profile litigator who has handled marquee same-sex marriage and antitrust cases, and Joseph Rice, who has represented plaintiffs in mass litigation over asbestos, tobacco and the 2010 BP oil spill.

Boies, who is applying to serve as one of three lead counsel or alternatively on the 10-member executive committee, said his national profile and his firm's resources would give plaintiffs an edge in court.

“This is an important case, a high-profile case, and you need the very best lawyers,” he told Furman. “This is not a time for false modesty.”

The lawyers Furman appoints will be expected to devote substantial time and resources to litigation efforts up front, in hopes of recovering a sizable share of legal fees from any eventual settlement or judgment.

Also seeking top roles Monday were a number of lawyers who led litigation against Toyota Motor Corp over acceleration issues starting in 2010. Furman has appointed Steve Berman, Elizabeth Cabraser and Mark Robinson, who helped spearhead those cases, to serve as temporary lead counsel in the GM litigation. Furman cautioned that the current assignments did not guarantee them a future role.

Berman said the Toyota litigation would be a valuable road map for plaintiffs suing GM. Toyota settled economic-loss claims stemming from the acceleration litigation in 2012 in a deal valued at $1.6 billion.

“I spent two and a half years of my life dealing with the issues (in Toyota) that we’ll deal with here,” he told Furman.

Furman said he planned to make the appointments by the end of the week.

(Reporting by Jessica Dye; Editing by Ted Botha and David Gregorio)

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