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Judge Second-Guesses the Settlement in Silicon Valley Hiring Conspiracy

Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) got off cheap in reaching a $324.5 million deal to settle allegations of conspiring with Intel (INTC) and Adobe Systems (ADBE) not to recruit each other’s workers. U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose ruled on Friday that the multibillion-dollar risk the companies faced at a potential trial means they need to pay more to make the case go away.

This unusual assertion of judicial oversight brings to mind another rejection by another woman judge on the opposite side of the country and in a very different mass lawsuit. In January, U.S. District Judge Anita Brody of Philadelphia inserted a monkey wrench into negotiations over the National Football League concussion litigation. Brody said a $914 million pact might not provide enough money for thousands of retired athletes who could come down with brain disease as a result of head injuries suffered on the field. Her skepticism forced the NFL back to the bargaining table, and in June the league agreed to uncap the settlement—meaning that the NFL’s ultimate liability could expand significantly, depending on the cost of treating ailing gridiron veterans.

Writing about Brody’s getting the NFL to sweeten the pot, I included this parenthetical: “(Memo to other federal jurists: You always have this authority to second-guess settlements, and you should probably use the power more often.)” Perhaps Judge Koh got the memo.

Barrett is an assistant managing editor and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek. His new book, Law of the Jungle, tells the story of the Chevron oil pollution case in Ecuador.

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