- Mueller to serve as settlement master for 500-plus lawsuits
- Federal judge gives attorneys until Friday to object
Former FBI chief Robert Mueller has been picked by a federal judge to to help steer Volkswagen AG toward a settlement with car owners suing it for rigging its emissions-testing software.
U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco said he will give lawyers for consumers and the carmaker until Friday to respond to his planned appointment of Mueller as special master.
Mueller has agreed to mediate negotiations in the case consolidating more 500 consumer lawsuits against Volkswagen for using deceptive software to subvert emissions standards. The German carmaker hired Ken Feinberg in December to design and administer an out-of-court program covering about 482,000 vehicles sold in the U.S.
Volkswagen admitted in September that it had rigged some diesel engines on about 11 million cars worldwide so that emissions controls came on only during testing. Those controls shut off while the car was on the road, producing nitrogen oxide emissions well in excess of the U.S. legal standard.
The lawsuits raise claims including consumer fraud, violations of civil racketeering laws and breach of contract. The car owners are seeking returns of premiums paid for the vehicles, compensation for diminished value and possible return of purchase price, minus depreciation.
Mueller, a former U.S. Marine and San Francisco litigator, was the sixth director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, serving under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He is currently a partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr LLP in Washington.
“His role will be to use his considerable experience and judgment to facilitate settlement discussions among the various parties in these complex matters,” Breyer said in an order Monday. “His government and private practice experience makes him uniquely qualified to work with and earn the trust of the parties.”
Jeannine Ginivan, a VW spokeswoman, and Steve Berman, one of the first lawyers to sue the company on behalf of consumers, didn’t immediately respond to phone and e-mail messages seeking comment on Mueller’s selection.
The case is In Re: Volkswagen “Clean Diesel” Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, MDL 2672, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco.)