Bob Goldberg takes the stand in NAR commissions trial

Association CEO, plaintiff’s attorney argue about … chickens

Bob Goldberg Takes the Stand in Sitzer/Burnett Trial
National Association of Realtors' Bob Goldberg (Getty, NAR)

National Association of Realtors CEO Bob Goldberg took the stand on Monday in the trade group’s landmark Sitzer/Burnett commissions suit, leading to one of the strangest exchanges of the trial.

Goldberg followed former NAR president Sharon Millett during Monday’s proceedings, Inman reported. In his testimony, Goldberg discussed how state and local associations operate independently of NAR, the country’s largest industry trade association.

Goldberg also testified that the organization doesn’t train members on what commissions to charge their clients, calling the subject “taboo.” He added that NAR has a flat rate for dues regardless of its members’ commission rate or income, disputing one allegation against the association.

The CEO returned to the stand on Tuesday to face cross-examination from plaintiff party’s attorney Michael Ketchmark. During the cross, Ketchmark tried making an analogy — not for the first time — between the allegations facing NAR and the hypothetical of chicken producers inflating prices.

Goldberg argued the analogy was “apples and oranges” because real estate agents offer a service, not a product. When Ketchmark continued his analogy and pressed Goldberg on whether he needs an explanation of antitrust law, the CEO responded, “No. I need you to explain to me the chicken law.”

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Sitzer/Burnett is the first of two major class-action lawsuits regarding broker commissions to go to trial. The lawsuits revolve around NAR’s policy requiring listing brokers to offer buyer’s agents compensation in listings on Realtor-controlled MLSs.

The trial started last week, and has featured testimony from Missouri homesellers behind the lawsuit who have railed against payment structures and said they were unaware that commissions are negotiable. Video depositions have also been played from Keller Williams CEO Gary Keller, HomeServices of America CEO and Berkshire Hathaway Homeservices Chairman Gino Blefari, and RE/MAX CEO Nick Bailey (his firm settled prior to the trial for $55 million).

Outside of NAR, defendants in the case include brokerages Keller Williams and Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices of America and its affiliates. Plaintiffs are seeking $1.78 billion in damages.

Holden Walter-Warner

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