Risk Update

Conflicts Concerns — Mayor’s Move Causes Concern, Shell Calls Out ERISA Class Conflict

Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla faces criticism over new law firm gig” —

  • “A number of Hoboken council members have called on Mayor Ravi Bhalla to provide more transparency about his position at a law firm he joined at the end of last year, a firm in which the city’s assistant corporation counsel also serves.”
  • “Bhalla joined Schenck, Price, Smith & King on Dec. 30, 2021, two days before he was sworn in for a second term as mayor. The firm issued a press release that day, but the news had not been publicized by either the mayor nor the city. The matter was brought up over the weekend by former City Council candidate Paul Presinzano.”
  • “The firm said Bhalla will help them in diversity and inclusion efforts as a member of their Diversity & Inclusion Committee. He will earn a salary of $60,000 there, along with his current salary of $116,950 as mayor.”
  • “When asked about why the mayor didn’t publicize his new role, Horowitz said that ‘since the fact that the mayor has been serving in the very limited role ‘of counsel’ to a law firm has been public for the past four years, the movement to a different firm in our view didn’t require a separate announcement from the mayor.'”
  • “Schenck, Price, Smith & King is the law firm where Assistant Corporation Counsel John Allen, who was Bhalla’s former Chief of Staff, also serves, which the council members say is a potential conflict of interest.”
  • “‘This once again reignites our long standing concern that Mayor Bhalla’s second job with a politically connected law firm will compromise the city’s interests in favor of his own,’ said the council members. ‘Mr. Allen may have solicited work for the firm in question, but the administration has blocked access to public records which would prove or disprove this accusation.'”
  • “The council members had brought up past concerns over other previous conflicts of interest regarding Allen, where he had formerly served as an attorney for the city’s Alcohol Beverage Control board.”

Shell Says Intra-Class Conflict Prevents Cert. In ERISA Suit” —

  • “Shell Oil Co. urged a Texas federal court to block a group of retirement plan participants from bringing their lawsuit over alleged 401(k) mismanagement on behalf of a sprawling class, claiming the proposed class improperly includes members with contradictory interests.”
  • “The oil and gas giant and its retirement plan trustees slammed a January motion for class certification lodged by three former Shell employees, pointing out in a filing Friday that the group contains members who the workers claim unfairly benefited from certain investments at the expense of putative class members who were harmed.”
  • “‘Plaintiffs’ proposed class is riddled with irreconcilable conflicts. Indeed, plaintiffs actually feature those conflicts as a centerpiece of their theory of the case,’ Shell said Friday.”
  • “The plan participants claimed in their January 2020 Employee Retirement Income Security Act lawsuit that Shell saddled its 401(k) plan with high fees and let Fidelity Investments Institutional Operations Co. Inc., the plan’s record-keeper, use participants’ personal information to market financial products.”
  • “A key issue with the proposed class is that putative members who invested in a specific tier of funds wound up in a very different position from those who didn’t, since the plan’s record-keeper was only paid fees from certain funds in this tier, Shell argued.”
  • “‘It is hard to imagine that absent class members, who did not invest in [this tier of funds], would (or could) be satisfied with being represented by a named plaintiff … who did, and whose counsel has maligned such absent members as free-riders,’ the oil and gas company continued.”
  • “This discrepancy between class members would come into sharp relief if a potential settlement would need to be split up between participants, Shell said.”