NEW YORK, Nov 22 (Reuters) - A federal judge in California signed an order on Monday granting class-action status to retirement funds suing Countrywide Financial Corp for deceptive practices.
The order, signed by U.S. District Judge Mariana Pfaelzer in the Central District of California, certified a class consisting of several state retirement funds that bought mortgage-backed securities sold by Countrywide entities before Jan. 14, 2010.
Countrywide had stipulated to the order, an agreement that cut short what could have been a long battle over issues related to class certification.
The judge also appointed the Washington, D.C.-based law firm of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll as lead counsel in the case. Cohen Milstein was lead counsel representing thousands of women suing Wal-Mart for employment discrimination. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned class-action status in that case earlier this year.
The case against Countrywide asserts that Countrywide used materially false or misleading documents to sell billions of dollars of MBS that were downgraded to junk-bond status by 2008.
The class representatives include the Iowa Public Employees' Retirement System, the Oregon Public Employees' Retirement System, the Orange County Employees' Retirement System and the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits of the United Methodist Church.
"This is a major step in holding Countrywide accountable for misrepresenting the mortgages it was securitizing," said plaintiffs' lead counsel Steven Toll, of Cohen Milstein.
Representatives for Bank of America, which owns Countrywide, were not immediately available for comment.
(Reporting by Leigh Jones)
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