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Attorneys in Qwest suit entitled to $15 million

DENVER — Attorneys who helped shareholders win a $50 million settlement from Qwest Communications International are entitled to $15 million in fees, a judge ruled.

The settlement, reached in June, ended a class-action lawsuit alleging Qwest improperly avoided paying a $273 million quarterly dividend to investors who held shares of US WEST before the companies merged in 2000.

The Association of US WEST Retirees had objected to the 30 percent cut sought by the attorneys, but Denver District Judge John Coughlin said Tuesday the lawyers were entitled to it.

Coughlin said a 30 percent fee is customary in class-action suits. He said the attorneys had earned it because of the risk involved in the case and because they had pursued it for more than five years.

Law firms involved in the case included Lerach Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins of San Diego, Dyer & Shuman of Denver, Weiss & Lurie of Los Angeles and Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman of New York.

John Coughlin is not related to anyone at Lerach Coughlin.

Lerach Coughlin attorney Michael Dowd said the firms' lawyers and paralegals logged nearly 16,000 hours on the case.

"We were ready to try this case. If any case ever deserved a 30 percent fee award, it's this case," he said.

Curtis Kennedy, a lawyer for the retirees group, called the fee a windfall.

"Times are changing. Shareholders are starting to see they need to stand up and object because these attorneys' fees are getting out of hand," he said.

Qwest denied the allegations in the lawsuit but agreed to settle to avoid the possibility of a large verdict and to avoid spending more money in defending the case, spokesman Bob Toevs said.