Maag describes confusing correspondence in AT&T case as 'gobbledygook'

Steve Korris Sep. 1, 2005, 10:34am

Judge Andy Matoesian, with an "e"

Plaintiff attorney Thomas Maag

In movies with absurd courtroom plots, the climax often involves a judge whose patient questioning draws him ever deeper into hopeless perplexity.

In Madison County, the class action case of Sandra Ragan vs. AT&T afflicts Circuit Judge Andy Matoesian in film fashion. Ragan sued in 2002, claiming that AT&T’s “universal connectivity charge” included secret overcharges.

Ragan’s exasperated attorney described correspondence he received in the matter as “gobbledygook.”

The word means pompous, involved and wordy, and it fits the case to a T. Thomas Maag of the Lakin Law Firm in Wood River represents Ragan.

Reversed by the Fifth District Appellate Court six months ago, Matoesian has kicked the case back to the Fifth District without ruling one way or another.

“The only reason we are here is because the Fifth District Court of Appeals ordered us to go to try to arbitrate and stated if the AAA (American Arbitration Association) would not arbitrate this dispute as drafted, that this matter could be referred back to the trial court,” Maag said at a hearing Aug. 31.

“American Arbitration Association responded with letters that could only be described as gobbledygook,” said Maag.

He also called the letters “gibberish.”

After the hearing Wednesday, Matoesian certified four questions for the appellate judges. The questions relate to possible arbitration of the case on issues of jurisdiction, immunity from service of subpoena, waiver of the offensive clause and timing of the agreement to arbitrate.

Matoesian told Maag he would certify the questions, “even though you misspelled my name.” This cracked up a dozen attorneys waiting on other cases.

Maag, who had left the “e” out of the judge’s name, said, “I apologize, your honor.”

Dissecting ‘gobbledygook

AT&T moved to compel arbitration, arguing that under Ragan’s customer service agreement her complaint should go to the AAA.

The association, however, declared that it would not arbitrate because AT&T’s service agreement provided that arbitration could not proceed as a class action. An affidavit of an association official stated that the provision violated its protocol.

Matoesian denied the motion to compel arbitration. AT&T appealed.

In March, the Fifth District granted AT&T’s motion to compel arbitration. The Fifth District stayed the Madison County proceedings and held all motions in abeyance.

“If the AAA refuses to arbitrate this dispute because of the terms of the customer service agreement, then the matter can be referred back to the trial court,” Fifth District Judge James Donovan wrote. “We are staying this matter, not dismissing it.”

Association vice president Catherine Shanks of East Providence, Rhode Island, sent Maag a letter stating that the association would arbitrate claims on an individual basis.

Maag filed class action claims for arbitration. He moved Matoesian to lift the stay and served a subpoena to depose Shanks.

AT&T argued in response that the association had agreed to arbitrate and the court could not interfere.

Maag moved July 7 to compel a deposition of Shanks.

The tangled mass dropped in Matoesian’s lap at a hearing Aug. 3. Maag and Gary Peel appeared for Ragan and Dennis Mangiaracino, who had been added as a plaintiff.

Robert Hochman appeared for AT & T. James Keller appeared for the association.

Keller said he tried to file pleadings but the clerk would not accept them.

Matoesian asked “why not?”

A clerk, unidentified in the transcript, said, “They are not a party to the case. Nobody has ever asked for them to be a third party.”

Matoesian asked AAA’s counsel, “Motion to intervene?”

Keller replied, “No.”

Maag said the association would only arbitrate because AT&T agreed to waive certain terms of the service agreement. “Plaintiffs do not agree to this waiver,” he said.

Defining ‘gobbledygook’

“You refer to the letters as gobbledygook. What do you mean?” Matoesian asked Maag.

“I’ll be happy to show you,” he answered.

While Maag dug among his letters, Matoesian asked why he wanted to depose Shanks.

“Catherine Shanks wrote every one of these letters,” said Maag.

Keller said, “Our position is crystal clear.” He quoted a May 31 letter from Shanks: “The association will administer individual arbitrations under the CSA (customer service agreement) as drafted.”

Matoesian said, “I asked, I thought it was, a very simple question, and I can’t get an answer. Will the AAA arbitrate this case?”

Keller replied, “Absolutely.”

Matoesian said to Maag, “And you are saying they won’t?”

“I can’t tell,” said Maag. “The AAA is all over the place.”

Matoesian said, “Hold on a minute. So the issue today is, ‘Will the AAA arbitrate?’ You are saying they won’t.”

Maag replied, “That’s not the issue, your honor. The issue is, we are trying to find out.”

Matoesian asked Keller why he was so opposed to a deposition of Shanks. Keller said, “The association takes the position across the country in all proceedings where it is collaterally asked to participate in discovery that it should not do so.”

Contempt and jurisdiction

Maag said the association has an office in Chicago.

If it refused to comply with a subpoena, he said, Matoesian could order the sheriff to take their office furniture for contempt.

“You can’t compel discovery while the case is stayed,” Hochman said. “And not only has the case been stayed, the case was stayed by the appellate court, not by this court.”

He said plaintiffs should move the appellate court to lift the stay.

Matoesian said to Keller, “You think this court has jurisdiction?”

“You can’t issue that subpoena across state lines,” Keller said. “Once it gets outside the state of Illinois, it has no legal effect at all.”

Keller said the association could not arbitrate because plaintiffs filed it as a class action. “The Fifth District’s opinion says it has to be on an individual basis,” he said. “Had they filed them on an individual basis, we wouldn’t be here.”

Matoesian said, “All I can conclude is, I do not have jurisdiction.” He denied the motion to compel.

More News