The Law Firm Looking to Profit from Janus
One law firm is betting big on winning cases against unions for agency fees paid before Janus
In the year and a half since the Janus decision, groups the National Right to Work Foundation have begun to file lawsuits around the country attempting to get back fair share dues that were paid before the Janus decision. In addition to these lawsuits, one lawyer has filed 21 separate cases in multiple states attempting to collect dues. The lawyer, Jonathan Mitchell and his firm Mitchell Law PLLC are seeking to collect hundreds of millions of dollars in agency fees. The work is being backed by a small finance firm, Juris Capital.
What makes these 21 cases different from the National Right to Work Legal Fund cases, is that Juris makes their money by bankrolling litigation upfront and then taking a profit from the winnings. Essentially Juris is making a bet that Mitchell will win the cases and be able to pay back the firm tens of millions of dollars.
Mitchell is a well-known figure in conservative legal circles. When he first began filing the lawsuits in 2018, he had a pending nomination by Trump to chair the Administrative Conference of the United States. This is a non-partisan government agency that is dedicated to improving government administration. Before that, he served as the Texas solicitor general and a professor at Stanford Law School.
While it has been known since 2018 that Mitchell was filing these lawsuits this is the first time that it has come to light that Juris was funding the cases. The company has tried to keep their involvement a secret even as Senators looked into Mitchell for his appointment to the Administrative Conference. In 2018, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse sent Mitchell a letter expressing his concern that Mitchell was part of the same “coordinated, covert, and well-funded” group that sought to crush public-sector unions with the Janus case. Whitehouse also requested disclosure of all persons or groups that were funding the cases. Mitchell, of course, refused to reveal his donors. However, he was forced to reveal the backing over the summer when he filed a class-action lawsuit in the US District Court for the Northern District of California. This court requires mandatory disclosure of third-party funders for class action lawsuits.
In the filing, Mitchell admitted that Juris Capital LLC was providing a non-recourse loan to fund the litigation. It went on to state that Juris would be paid back from proceeds that the firm won in any of the 20 class action cases that were brought against public-sector unions in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Maryland, California, and Washington state.
“While labor unions are forced to publicly disclose nearly every financial transaction they make, those plotting our demise hide behind front groups to plow dark money into bad-faith lawsuits that tie up union resources and hurt working people,” AFT President Randi Weingarten told The Intercept. “It’s well past time that Juris is exposed for what it is: a dark-money vehicle trying to deny workers a voice at work and in our democracy.”
In a 2010 interview, David Desser, the Managing Director of Juris, said that they are only interested in cases where they believe they can double or triple their investment. He also claims to cherry-pick the best cases with the highest probability of winning.
That makes these cases so interesting. So far, unions have come out on top. They have not yet lost a case in trial and, according to the National Right to Work Foundation, have only settled about 10 cases nationwide. It is unlikely that any decision in favor of paying back fair share dues would come in the next year or so, and it would only come after a protracted legal battle that brings the case to the Supreme Court.
Weingarten thinks that there could be a motive other than profit behind Mitchell and Juris’ decisions. She thinks that they could be attempting to starve unions of resources by locking them up in court. If they win, they back the investors, but if they lose they have still forced the union to spend hundreds of thousands in legal costs. While this might seem far fetched, this was the strategy that billionaire Peter Theil used when he backed Terry “Hulk Hogan” Bollea’s case against Gawker.
With millions of dollars on the line and the financial solvency of public sector unions at risk, it should surprise no one that the rats from Wall St are coming in to make a risky bet on a longshot case. However with millions of dollars in financial backing, it doesn’t seem like Mitchell is going to stop filing these cases, there is simply too much on the line for him and Juris Capital.