In what is as far as I am aware the first class action settlement in the current wave of subprime-related securities lawsuits, on October 14, 2008, WSB Financial Group announced (here) that it had entered into a settlement agreement of the class action lawsuit pending against the company and certain of its directors and officers.



As detailed in greater length here, on October 30, 2007, plaintiffs’ lawyers’ had initiated a securities class action lawsuit in the Western District of Washington. A copy of the plaintiffs’ consolidated complaint can be found here.



WSB Financial Group is the parent company of Westsound Bank. The lawsuit alleged that the offering documents associated with the company’s December 21, 2006 IPO contained material misrepresentations or omissions. Among other things, the complaint alleges that the offering documents stated that the company “focused on originating and maintaining a high-quality loan portfolio and had rigid underwriting policiesdesigned to ensure the credit quality of the Company’s portfolio. In reality, however, WSB Financial originated hundreds of high-risk loans in violation of the Company’s stated policies for a total amount of at least $90 million.”



In its October 14 press release, the company stated that the parties had agreed to a settlement of $4.85 million. The press release also states that the company’s D&O insurance policy would contribute $4.45 million toward the settlement and had previously contributed approximately $350,000 toward the cost of the settlement. The proposed settlement is subject to court approval.



As a relatively small settlement of one of the smaller, lower profile cases in the current litigation wave, this settlement is likely to have relatively little direct influence on other pending cases. The significance of this settlement may simply be that it has happened at all. With so many of the subprime and credit crisis-related cases only in their earliest stages, the likelihood of settlements emerging seemed like a distant prospect. It may yet be a considerable time before the higher profile cases move toward the settlement stage, even assuming they survive preliminary motions. This settlement suggests that at least some cases will move more quickly toward resolution.



Nevertheless, anyone who thinks that the current litigation morass might quickly be cleaned up may need to curb their enthusiasm. An October 13, 2008 article entitled “New Wave of Class Actions Filed in Wake of Subprime Collapse” (here) quotes a plaintiffs’ securities class action attorney as saying that he anticipates that subprime litigation “will keep us busy for seven or eight years.”



In any event, I have added the WSB settlement to my table of subprime and credit-crisis related case dispositions, which can be accessed here.



A Different Approach: In our country, the most important issue in any crisis is figuring out who to blame. Refined distinctions are not a necessary part of this blame assignment process, and blame can be assigned indiscriminately. (If you doubt this assertion, please refer to the public statements of any U.S. politician during the current financial turmoil.) Our transatlantic cousins apparently take a different approach, which I must say has much to recommend it.



According to an October 14, 2008 article (here), the nationalized British lender Northern Rock has announced that it will not bring legal action against its former directors and officers, after having concluded that "there are insufficient grounds to proceed with a negligence action against the ex-directors." The article also reports that "the bank’s auditors are off the hook."