Heather Isringhausen Gvillo Feb. 5, 2015, 7:56am

After nine years of litigating a legal malpractice lawsuit involving the handling of a decade-and-a-half old asbestos case, parties agreed to settle just before opening arguments were set to begin Wednesday.

After two days of jury selection, plaintiff Judy Buckles reached a confidential settlement with Goldenberg, Heller, Antognoli, Rowland and Short – successor to the Hopkins Goldenberg firm.

Buckles is a former Hopkins Goldenberg client who claims attorneys from the Hopkins Goldenberg firm and later attorney John Simmons of The Simmons Firm botched the settlements of her husband’s mesothelioma lawsuit.

Simmons was dismissed from the case in 2012.

Buckles originally filed the suit in 2001 over the handling of her asbestos claim filed in the late 1990s. She later dropped the case and refiled it in 2006.

In one of the counts of Buckles’ suit, she alleged that the Hopkins Goldenberg firm had several secret agreements with potential defendants, including W.R. Grace and Owens Corning, to classify and settle claims against its various clients for predetermined figures.

The complaint alleged that these predetermined figures bore no relationship to the loss the plaintiff suffered and that the Hopkins Goldenberg firm did not disclose these arrangements to the plaintiff.

And, among other things, Buckles’ complaint alleged that the Hopkins Goldenberg firm failed to file suit within the statute of limitations against one potential defendant, W.R. Grace.

In addition, the complaint alleged that the Hopkins Goldenberg firm failed to collect settlements from the various entities in a timely manner before those entities filed bankruptcy, made improper and excessive cost deductions from the settlement proceeds, unilaterally allocated the proceeds of group settlements to the plaintiff without her knowledge or consent, and failed to disclose to the plaintiff the terms of its fee-splitting arrangements with the national asbestos firm, Ness Motley of Mt. Pleasant, S.C.

Throughout the course of litigation, the defendants have continued to deny allegations.

The case had been appealed to the Fifth District on a number of issues, and in 2012, the appellate court upheld the dismissal of Simmons as defendant.

It also upheld a summary judgment ruling for the former Hopkins Goldenberg firm on the adequacy of a $750,000 asbestos settlement reached with Pittsburg Corning.

But the court reversed another order that had granted partial summary judgment in favor of the Hopkins Goldenberg firm. On that issue, the court remanded the matter for further proceedings.

Circuit Judge William Mudge has presided over the case for the past few years, and during that time it has been set for trial on numerous occasions, then continued.

Several months ago, Mudge indicated in an order that he would not allow for any additional continuances.

Roy C. Dripps represented Buckles.

John Papa and Daniel Konicek represented the Goldenberg firm.

Madison County Circuit Court case number 06-L-588

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