San Diego-based attorneys Tim Cohelan, Mike Aguirre and John Wertz initiated the flurry of Pioneer-related civil suits in early January when they filed suits that alleged fraud on the part of Pioneer owner Gary Naiman and Pioneer's banks and accounting firms. The three attorneys, who represent about 100 Pioneer investors, want Rhoades to certify the suit as a "class action," a designation that would turn the suit into one that represents all of Pioneer's 2,000 investors.
A few days later, nearly a dozen investors filed individual lawsuits in San Diego County Superior Court, alleging fraudulent actions that mirror those found in the U.S. District Court suit. On March 1, four law firms representing Pioneer investors filed 90 more suits against Naiman and several companies that did business with Pioneer.
Attorneys who filed in federal court are hoping that the bankruptcy and civil cases will eventually fall under the jurisdiction of a single district court judge.
Those who filed in superior court believe that the myriad interests of Pioneer investors would best be suited to rules of the state court system, in part because of a state law that generally provides earlier trial dates for plaintiffs who are over 70 years old and are in poor health.
The lawsuits also have sparked a legal turf battle. For example, attorney Cohelan last week asked Rhoades, the district court judge, for a speedy ruling on a request to lift a stay that insulates the now-bankrupt Pioneer companies from civil lawsuits.
Most Pioneer investors, however, seem unaware of the intricacies involved in the logic that leads different attorneys to file civil suits in different court systems.
"The only (hearing) I've been to so far was in the federal Bankruptcy Court," said one retired woman who was forced to seek employment when Pioneer stopped mailing monthly checks.
"This is all something that's very, very new to me. . . . This is my lifetime savings. I want to see what I can do about protecting it."