Editor’s Note: RISMedia Founder and CEO John Featherston and Executive Vice President Maria Patterson are on location in Kansas City. Stay tuned to RISMedia for daily coverage of the trial.
As the Burnett class-action suit (formerly known as Burnett-Sitzer) kicks off today, with the entire real estate industry’s bottom line at stake, it is not just the facts that will matter. In front of the jury will not just be arguments over the competitive nature of real estate, but people.
With the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), Keller Williams and HomeServices of America as defendants, the trial will involve some of real estate’s most recognizable names. And with the scope of the trial encompassing brokerages, MLSs, training, technology and history, there are some surprising faces popping up as well.
While not every person on this list is guaranteed to testify, here are the people to get acquainted with as RISMedia follows this landmark trial over the next three weeks:
The Honorable Stephen R. Bough
An appointee of former president Barack Obama, Judge Bough will be overseeing the case in the Federal District Court of Western Missouri. Specializing in antitrust cases, Bough has also presided over some even higher-profile and higher-stakes courtroom drama, including death penalty cases. He has shown a propensity for blunt commentary outside his role on the bench, as well as a sympathy toward criminal defendants.
In 2020, Bough was disallowed from sentencing a defendant after telling him the federal judicial system “sucks.” He has also partnered with former convicts to help them integrate back into society after release from prison.
CEO of Homeservices of America and Chair of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, Blefari is on the witness list for the defendants. Coming from a background in Silicon Valley where he founded Intero Real Estate in 2002, Blefari is expected to be asked about his relationship with NAR and policies, along with previous statements and training on “cooperative competition” in the industry.
CEO of NAR, Goldberg announced he would be retiring at the end of 2024. He has worked at NAR since 1995, and has not been shy about pushing back against critics and investigations targeting the real estate industry, calling the current lawsuits a “money grab” last year at RISMedia’s CEO & Leadership Exchange event.
Currently VP of MLS and industry relations for HomeServices of America, Coile also serves on the Bright MLS executive committee and has held numerous leadership and advisory positions at NAR. Coile has remained an outspoken advocate for MLS evolution and collaboration, but his work on both NAR policy and MLS leadership will likely be scrutinized by the plaintiffs.
The founder of HomeServices of America, Peltier started the company in 1998 and built it into a juggernaut. Currently serving as chairman of the company, Peltier started as an agent after leaving his previous career as a teacher. He has also been subject to last-minute wrangling at the trial, with the plaintiffs unsuccessfully objecting to his inclusion on an Oct. 4 witness list after his videotaped testimony was withdrawn.
The co-founder of Keller Williams who currently serves as the company’s executive chairman, Williams is also a prolific writer and entrepreneur. After starting in real estate in the early 1980s, he founded the iconic Texas-based company. Plaintiffs have sought training materials from Williams’ company, as well as data from franchises operated in the areas of certain MLSs.
Vice President of MAPS coaching at Keller Williams, Davis is being called to provide testimony on “the tremendous value of services offered by buyer agents,” according to court filings, as the defendants seek to emphasize positives of the current real estate system. She also is expected to testify to “Keller Williams’ lack of involvement in NAR or other industry bodies or activities.”
Though RE/MAX has since settled in the case, its mercurial co-founder is on the witness list for the defendants, suggesting he could be called to defend the structure and practice of organized real estate. Liniger still serves as chair of the board for RE/MAX, and continues to be active in the real estate community 50 years after launching the now iconic company.
Dr. Lawrence Wu
Currently working as a consultant, Wu is an economist and expert in antitrust litigation, previously serving in roles for the FTC and at Stanford University. His expert testimony will likely be key in establishing whether or not there is evidence of antitrust violations that can be attributed to the policies at issue in the suit.
Former NAR director of real estate services (RES) and policy oversight, Young could be a key witness regarding how NAR and brokerages collaborated (or conspired) with brokerages through RES, which plaintiffs called a “venue to hatch an antitrust conspiracy.” According to court filings, plaintiffs sought to exclude her testimony, with NAR lawyers arguing she would provide “a complete and accurate understanding of RES.”
Krista Wilson and Mike Frazier
Executives at a HomeServices of America affiliate, Reece & Nichols REALTORS®, Frazier and Wilson are expected to testify about their relationship with the parent company. Specifically, that “HomeServices…does not require local agents to join any multiple listing service, to comply with NAR’s Handbook on Multiple List Policy, or to comply with NAR’s Code of Ethics,” as the defendants seek to rebut assertions that NAR and brokerages essentially conspired to enforce rules.