(UPDATED) The judge overseeing the VW “Clean Diesel” class actions said he will name former FBI director Robert S. Mueller to oversee settlement talks but gave lawyers time to object.
The dozens of cases stem from VW’s admission it deliberately created software to cheat EPA emissions testing.
The order by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer Monday naming Mueller as potential settlement master does not mean there will be settlements in the hundreds of cases being filed in federal court, but he will oversee discussions to resolve the cases filed by consumers.
Breyer said he would give both sides until January 15 to comment on his choice.
The scandal for VW erupted earlier this year when discrepancies in European exhaust tests on diesel models of the VW Passat, the VW Jetta and BMW X5 prompted the International Council on Clean Transportation to alert the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which had even higher emissions standards than the rest of the world.
While the cars spewed harmful exhaust when testers drove them, the cars passed lab tests.
That ultimately unraveled the software problem. Volkswagen AG admitted that it built software into a half-million diesel cars from 2009 to 2015 that would cheat U.S. air-pollution tests. This was occurring in cars that VW had claimed for years were “clean diesel” autos.
The former VW Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn apologized in September and later stepped down.
This launched regulatory investigations in the U.S. and Europe. It also began the filing of hundreds of consumer lawsuits by owners of the cars. The cases were consolidated late last year into a mass class action before Breyer in San Francisco.
In appointing Mueller to oversee any settlement discussions, Breyer said he has known Mueller professionally for more than 40 years.
“There are few, if any, people with more integrity, good judgment and relevant experience than Mr. Mueller,” he wrote.
Breyer said Mueller would not adjudicate or assist the court in the litigation but rather his role was only to facilitate settlement discussions among various parties.
Mueller served as a federal prosecutor and as U.S. Attorney in Northern California before his appointment as FBI Director by President George W. Bush, just four days before the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
He served as director through his initial 10-year term and was asked by President Barak Obama to stay an additional two years.
He is currently in private practice at WilmerHale in Washington, D.C.
Case: In re: Volkswagen “Clean Diesel” Marketing, No. MDL 2672