James Hoyer, P.A., is run with the precision and dedication of a prosecutor’s office, because the whistleblower law firm’s founding partners were career federal and state prosecutors before entering private practice. Just like their early days, Chris Hoyer and his wife Judy Hoyer continue to work side-by-side with elite, award-winning investigators, including former FBI and investigative journalists, and a team of specialized whistleblower attorneys. Together, James Hoyer lawyers and investigators develop the facts that make a difference in their clients’ cases.
How It All Began
The firm owes its start in 1993 to an election-year defeat. In 1992, the firm’s founding group of lawyers, prosecutors led by Bill James, the elected chief prosecutor in Tampa, Florida, had to start fresh after losing a close re-election bid. They saw themselves with few options. “We could learn to practice law the way everyone else was, or we could do what we knew how to do,” recalled Chris Hoyer, who was James’s second-in-command during their eight years in the state prosecutor’s office. The former prosecutors quickly found that qui tam whistleblower cases and class actions gave them another way to attack fraud as an alternative to criminal law. The discovery led them to a new niche in civil litigation, essentially becoming civil prosecutors for taxpayers and consumers.
When Chris and Judy Hoyer and Bill James worked together as federal prosecutors in Central Florida, they routinely collaborated with FBI agents to win convictions for white-collar fraud, organized crime, and political corruption. In the new firm, formed with their friend and attorney John Newcomer and several retired FBI agents, they set out to utilize the same collaborative methodology to achieve success for their clients.
Making A Mark In Class Actions
The firm was only a few months old when a former agent for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (MetLife) arrived at the door with a complaint. He said the nation’s largest insurance company had used fraudulent tactics to sell nurses life insurance policies disguised as annuity investments. The allegations led James Hoyer to file a class action lawsuit accusing MetLife of deceptive sales practices.
There was no precedent for such a complaint against an insurance company of MetLife’s size and reputation. “Other class action firms looked at us with amusement,” Hoyer said. “We had a lot of self-doubt, because it was hard to believe what had been going on at MetLife.” Evidence continued to mount as the lawyers pursued the case. In 1994, MetLife agreed to make full refunds up to $76 million to 60,000 customers and pay a record $20 million fine to insurance regulators. It was a dollar for dollar refund to the victims, something almost unheard of in the settlement context – complete victory.
The MetLife case prompted scrutiny of sales practices in the entire insurance industry. James Hoyer subsequently brought suit against numerous other insurance companies, including Prudential, John Hancock, and State Farm.
In 1998, James Hoyer grew substantially when it merged with a group of lawyers including shareholder Terry Smiljanich, another former federal prosecutor. In June 2000, James Hoyer helped negotiate a $215-million class action settlement with insurer American General Corporation, on behalf of thousands of African-American customers who were systematically overcharged for small burial policies on the basis of their race. Two years later, MetLife again agreed to settle a James Hoyer class action, this time for $160-million to resolve allegations that it had overcharged nonwhites for life insurance.
All told, the James Hoyer law firm has been lead or co-counsel in more than eighty class action lawsuits nationwide.
Focusing On Whistleblowers
In the early 2000s, James Hoyer shifted its focus from consumer class actions to representing whistleblowers who have disclosed fraud in order to return misappropriated government funds. Such actions are called qui tams or False Claims Act cases, and the whistleblower is eligible to receive a “relator’s share,” or a portion of the government’s recovery.
The firm represented the first whistleblowers in the Columbia/HCA Medicare fraud case, which gained national attention and involved the misuse of nearly $2 billion in taxpayer dollars. The firm also exposed widespread fraud involving government-insured prescriptions at two of the nation’s largest drugstore chains, Walgreens and Eckerd. In recent years, James Hoyer has successfully represented whistleblowers in qui tam whistleblower cases against defense contractors, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and for-profit colleges.
James Hoyer has now represented relators in nearly one hundred qui tam lawsuits. In addition, the firm has represented individuals under the whistleblower programs for the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Internal Revenue Services (IRS). Just as they did in their days in the prosecutor’s office, James Hoyer whistleblower lawyers and investigators use their ties to the FBI and government agencies to investigate and present cases in the best possible light. Keeping the focus on the facts ensures the best results for the government and ultimately a larger relator’s share for James Hoyer clients.
In 2014, James Hoyer cases ranked first and fourth in the list of the top ten largest False Claims, Stark Law, and Anti-Kickback settlements, as compiled by Becker’s Hospital Review.
A Unique Approach
Since its founding, James Hoyer and its collaborating law firms have negotiated settlements returning more than $3.2 billion to taxpayers, consumers, and the government.
Critical to the firm’s success is its reliance on experienced investigators — veteran FBI agents and investigative journalists from print and television — who document fraud. Our attorney/investigator makeup is unique, because we believe having strong investigators translates into developing strong facts for our cases, which are the foundation for our success.
The path taken by James Hoyer has not been an obvious one. Today, our unique path continues as we represent rare and courageous whistleblowers, and in the process, help to recover millions of dollars every year for taxpayers and our clients. “We took enormous risks that other people wouldn’t take,” Chris Hoyer said about the firm’s first years. Now, as a result of decades spent fighting fraud, James Hoyer has carved out a place as one of the nation’s top whistleblower law firms.