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O'Melveny Helps Achieve Important Class Action Settlement With Orange County for Social Services Recipients

June 08, 2010

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Sonja Steptoe
O’Melveny & Myers LLP
office: 213.415.6384
cell: 323.578.1586
ssteptoe@omm.com

NEWPORT BEACH, CALIFORNIA ─ June 8, 2010 ─ O'Melveny & Myers LLP, working as pro bono co-counsel with the Western Center on Law & Poverty, Public Law Center, and Rothner Segall & Greenstone on behalf of a class of aggrieved Orange County residents, has reached a settlement with the County that includes a three-year Consent Decree designed to ensure more timely processing and approval of food stamp applications.

In the case, Blackstar v. Orange County, the plaintiffs represented a class of food stamp applicants and recipients whose benefits had been unlawfully denied or delayed due to cutbacks at the County's Social Services Agency (SSA). The June 7 order by US District Court Judge Dale S. Fischer gives preliminary approval to a settlement between the plaintiffs and Orange County that includes a three-year Consent Decree establishing guidelines and deadlines with which the SSA must comply, as well as an award of attorneys' fees and costs to the plaintiffs.

The Consent Decree will require SSA to process regular food stamp applications according to certain agreed-upon percentages and times, as follows: (a) approve at least 93% of eligible applications within 30 days of the date of application; (b) approve or deny at least 90% of all applications within 30 days of the date of application; and (c) approve or deny 97% of all applications within 60 days of the date of application. During the same three-year period, SSA will process expedited food stamp applications as follows: (a) approve at least 90% of eligible expedited food stamp applications within 3 days of the date of application; and (b) approve at least 95% of eligible expedited food stamp applications within 14 days of the date of application.

Additionally, the settlement allows the plaintiffs to recover up to US$750,000 of attorneys’ fees and costs. O'Melveny will donate its portion of the award to non-profit community service providers.

The Blackstar case presented some very challenging issues, according to Phillip Kaplan, partner and pro bono chair of O'Melveny's Newport Beach office. “We recognized that the County was faced with its own budget pressures, but we believed strongly that in this severe recession, the County needed to do a better job in getting benefits to those in need in a more timely way,” said Kaplan. “This outcome is a win-win for all the parties involved because it ensures that people who are entitled to benefits get them on time.”

Said Robert Newman, senior attorney with the Western Center on Law & Poverty and co-counsel for the plaintiffs: “In these hard economic times it is critical that government be able to get families the help they need when they need it. Orange County has taken important steps in making this a reality. In April the County timely approved 99% of applications for regular food stamps, proving that these percentages are doable.”

About O’Melveny & Myers LLP
With approximately 1,000 lawyers in 14 offices worldwide, O’Melveny & Myers LLP helps industry leaders across a broad array of sectors manage the complex challenges of succeeding in the global economy. We are a values-driven law firm, guided by the principles of excellence, leadership, and citizenship. Our commitment to these values is reflected in our dedication to improving access to justice through pro bono work and championing initiatives that increase the diversity of the legal profession. For more information, please visit www.omm.com

About the Western Center on Law & Poverty
The Western Center on Law & Poverty, founded in 1967, works statewide for system-wide change to secure housing, health care and a strong safety net for low-income Californians.