Members of the Cobb Electric Membership Corp., a nonprofit cooperative, won a proposed settlement of a class action lawsuit that means $98 million will be paid to about 900,000 current and former customers, also called members, including individuals and businesses for their long, long overdue shares of EMC profits, or capital credits, going back to the co-op's formation in 1938.
The agreement was announced last month at a Superior Court hearing at which Judge Stephen Schuster signed an order setting up the plan for paying out the profits. The judge, who also presided over the member lawsuit that toppled CEO Dwight Brown and his errant board, recognized the service of the succeeding EMC directors seated in the first two rows of the courtroom. He said it was important the court "see those that are here in support of this process and have been involved." He recalled the previous board attended his court only under subpoena.
"We've come a long way," Schuster told the directors. "You have truly saved the company and turned the company around. It's a new board, a new CEO and a whole new outlook. The EMC is now focused on member rights."
He said the directors "deserve acknowledgement and thanks from everybody."
Judge Schuster likewise is deserving of the acknowledgement and thanks of Cobb EMC members for his aggressive pursuit of justice in the Brown case as well as his judicious handling of the lawsuit involving capital credits even though the work in the trenches was done by mediator Michael Bowers, a former Georgia attorney general. Bowers, who sweated it out from October 2012 until January this year with a battery of lawyers on all sides, said the case was "highly adversarial," leading him to believe many times, "We're just not going to reach an agreement."
But then, all the lawyers knew who was presiding in this case.
The proposed settlement, subject to final approval at a hearing next February, requires Cobb EMC to set aside an estimated $34 million for paying out to account holders who were members through the first half of 1988. The remaining estimated $64 million will be paid to members who belonged to the co-op between the second half of 1988 and Dec. 31, 2012. Claims will have to be filed, and members will have an option of either "net present value" or full value, which requires that credits must have fully matured, a period of 24.6 years from the date they were booked by the co-op.
Obviously, the payouts will vary greatly, depending upon usage of electricity and the time frame. But aside from the money, this case vindicates the power of the people and the equity in the judicial system of Cobb County.