Crowder signs emergency order for plaintiffs; Businesses had not yet been served

Steve Korris Feb. 8, 2006, 1:49pm

Madison County Associate Judge Barbara Crowder has started her political career the same way Circuit Judge Phillip Kardis ended his political career -- by heaping abuse on businesses of the Cassens family.

Crowder, a candidate for circuit judge, signed an emergency order against Cassens Corporation and Cassens & Sons of Edwardsville, for plaintiffs who had not even served their lawsuit on the businesses.

No trace of Crowder's Jan. 26 order remains at the courthouse. The Record obtained a copy from U.S. District Court, East St. Louis, by Internet.

In an eerie coincidence, Circuit Judge Daniel Stack had just thrown out an order Kardis signed against Cassens businesses last year, on the day Kardis retired.

The order, allowing Ronald Yenerich and Phyllis Yenerich to claim punitive damages against the businesses, recited accusations of the plaintiffs as facts.

Stack vacated Kardis's order Jan. 10, on a motion of Cassens & Sons, though he ruled there was "nothing nefarious" about the order. Nefarious means very wicked.

Sixteen days later, Crowder surpassed Kardis in prejudice.

On the 26th, Ohio residents Keith Yount and Cindy Yount sued Lisa Shashek, Cassens & Sons, Cassens Corporation and "unknown defendants."

Defendant Shashek is a granddaughter of a founder of the family business.

Attorney Thomas Maag, representing the Younts, alleged that Keith Yount suffered an injury March 11, 2004, while working for Cassens Transport.

Maag alleged 14 counts and sought more than $50,000 in damages for each count.

He filed an emergency motion to shorten the time for defendants to answer discovery. He wrote that the statute of limitations might expire March 11.

He attached a proposed order obligating Cassens Corporation and Cassens & Sons to answer interrogatories before March 11.

The proposed order identified Shashek as lead defendant but asked for nothing from her.

Maag attached interrogatories to the proposed order, asking defendants to identify the manufacturers of Cassens Transport tractor 4139 and trailer 4140, along with all persons and entities that have owned and leased the tractor and the trailer.

He asked for vehicle identification numbers of the tractor and the trailer.

He asked for names of the manufacturer and the distributor of the ratchet system and its component parts.

Maag listed the Lakin Law Firm and Ezra & Wendler as plaintiff attorneys. Maag, formerly with Lakin and now with Ezra & Wendler, signed the complaint.

Circuit clerk's staff stamped the suit as case number 06-L-83.

Chief Judge Edward Ferguson assigned the case to Circuit Judge Don Weber, but Weber never saw it because people at the courthouse pretend he does not exist.

Someone took Maag's proposed order to Crowder. She signed it.

Eight days later Shashek's attorney, Gordon Broom of Edwardsville, removed the case to U.S. District Court.

Broom wrote that no defendants had been served with the complaint.

He wrote that federal law required removal because, "there exists complete diversity between the parties in that Plaintiff is a citizen and no defendant is a citizen of Ohio."

He argued that federal law also required removal because the amount of damages in controversy exceeded $75,000.

On Feb. 7, the Record asked circuit clerk's staff for the file in 06-L-83.

Staff said 06-L-83 was removed to federal court and there was no file.

Normally, the circuit clerk preserves files in removed cases. Removal does not always stick, for federal judges often remand cases to circuit court.

On the 7th, outside Crowder's second floor courtroom, bailiff Rod Taylor agreed to ask her about the order. He went through an office door.

When he returned, he said the parties agreed on the order. He said it was not unusual for an associate judge to sign an agreed order in a case pending before a circuit judge.

The Record then located the Madison County filings in U.S. District Court records. Nothing in Crowder's order indicated any agreement.

Agreed orders normally specify that the parties agreed. Crowder's order did not refer to an agreement.

Agreed orders normally bear the signatures or initials of an attorney for each side. No signatures or initials appeared on Crowder's order.

No attorney could have properly appeared for Cassens. Defendants do not retain attorneys until they know someone has sued them. These defendants did not know.

Bailiff Taylor said Feb. 8 that he would ask Crowder who agreed on the order. At press time neither he nor Crowder had answered.

Family spokesman Allen Cassens said Feb. 8 that he would comment on the order if the Record made clear that it contacted him, rather than the other way around.

"No one asked me about agreeing to that order prior to it being entered," Cassens said. My first knowledge of that order was when I received it in the mail.

Any Illinois judge who communicates "ex parte," with an attorney present for one side and no attorney for the other side, violates the Supreme Court code of judicial ethics.

In this case, however, the record does not even establish that Maag was present when Crowder signed the order.

Meanwhile, in the Yenerich case, Stack discovered that he had not quite put Kardis's spiteful order to rest.

Stack told plaintiff attorney Brian Wendler to draft a new order. Wendler drafted nothing. Instead he submitted Kardis's order.

Wendler had splashed a puddle of White-Out on Kardis's name and signature.

Defense attorneys last year had sealed their motion to vacate Kardis's order, in apparent deference to the judiciary, but with his name blotted out they responded in the open.

William Berry of Belleville wrote in a Jan. 27 objection for Cassens & Sons that the order referred to exhibits that Kardis had previously excluded from evidence.

Berry wrote that the order was inaccurate and not supported by the evidence admitted.

Cottrell Inc., a Georgia trailer manufacturer on defense with Cassens, also objected.

"The evidence is misquoted and taken out of context," Robert Shultz of Edwardsville wrote for Cottrell in a Jan. 27 objection.

He wrote, "The proposed order does not follow the settled law that plaintiffs must show evil motive or reckless indifference."

Shultz's objection listed former U. S. Senator Alan J. Dixon, of Bryan Cave in St. Louis, as co-counsel.

The dispute ended Jan. 31, when the parties announced that they had settled the case. They told Stack they would follow up with stipulations.

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