Lakin attorney calls Weber a liar during hearing

Steve Gonzalez Mar. 27, 2006, 4:11pm

Joe Whyte

Troy Bozarth

Judge Weber

Gary Peel

Last week Madison County Circuit Judge Don Weber and Lakin Law Firm attorney Charles Chapman were seen breaking bread together at a popular Main Street watering hole in Edwardsville.

Monday, in open court, the lawyer called the judge a liar.

Weber, who was appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court to fill a vacancy five months ago, sat in his own courtroom as spectator to a bizarre display of disrespect toward a sitting judge.

"If I have to say that Judge Weber is a liar, so be it," Chapman told Chief Judge Edward Ferguson.

Chapman also explained that Weber is allegedly biased towards the Lakin firm and should be removed from 14 class action lawsuits the firm presently has pending before Weber.

Ferguson listened for more than two hours to lawyers presenting evidence on whether Weber was biased because the firm represented a client who sued Weber in 1992.

Assisting Chapman was fellow Lakin lawyers Roy Dripps and Paul Marks.

Among the spectators imposing a formidable presence in the courtroom included attorney Lance Callis -- revered among the Madison County plaintiff's bar. He did not address the court.

His daughter, Circuit Judge Ann Callis, is expected to succeed Ferguson as chief judge on Wednesday after selection by the nine circuit judges of the 3rd Judicial Circuit.

Representing defendants in the class action cases were Joe Whyte of Heyl Royster in Edwardsville and Troy Bozarth of the Burroughs Firm also of Edwardsville.

Like Callis, Bill Lucco and Joe Brown of Lucco and Brown also of Edwardsville, who represents a defendant in one of the class actions, did not address Ferguson.

During the hearing, Chapman told Ferguson that the Lakin Firm successfully sued Weber almost 14 years ago on behalf of Linda Condray. She sued Weber, who at the time was an assistant state's attorney in Madison County, and Post-Dispatch reporter Charles Bosworth, who co-wrote the book, "Precious Victims."

The focus of the book was Paula Sims, the Alton woman who killed two of her children. Weber prosecuted Sims and then helped author the book with Bosworth.

Condray sued, alleging that Weber obtained the photo in the course of investigating a murder as a Madison County prosecutor and was seeking compensation for its use. The publisher of the book, Penguin Books, settled with Condray for $25,000.

On Jan. 5, former Lakin attorney Gary Peel filed the motion for substitution of judge for cause in a class action against Wells Fargo, prompting Weber to file an affidavit on Feb. 7 which he states, "Until the Lakin Law Firm brought up the lawsuit, I had forgotten completely about it."

"The lawsuit would have absolutely no impact on how I would rule in any particular case," Weber wrote.

Weber stated in his affidavit that neither he nor Bosworth paid any money for attorney's fees or a settlement.

"Neither of us suffered any economic damage whatsoever from the lawsuit," he wrote.

He wrote that neither he nor Bosworth participated in negotiations between Condray and Penguin Books.

"Neither Charlie Bosworth nor I were even aware of the amount of money offered or paid to Linda Condray to settle the suit until January of 2006 when the lawsuit and settlement were brought to my attention by the filing of Plaintiff's Motion for Change of Judge," he wrote.

"I am not prejudiced against the Lakin Law Firm or any of their former or current employees," he wrote.

Circuit Judge Andy Matoesian signed Weber's affidavit as witness.

Since the Jan. 5 motion, Peel or Dripps filed an additional 11 motions for substitution for cause alleging the same basic facts.

Peel is no longer employed by the Lakin Law Firm; he was terminated last week after a federal grand jury indicted him on bankruptcy fraud, child pornography and obstruction of justice charges.

Chapman also told Ferguson that Weber's handling of one particular case, Yount v. Cassens, proved that he "had it out" for the Lakin Firm.

Both Whyte and Bozarth defended Weber and even pointed to the fact the lawyer, David Dugan, who represented Condray for the Lakin firm in 1992, stated in a deposition March 24 that he believed he would get a fair shake in Weber's court.

The defense also told Ferguson that in Illinois it is up to the judge to decide if he or she can be fair and impartial in a case, and if they choose not to recuse themselves, they should be given the benefit of the doubt.

"If you allow these motions, you are essentially saying that Judge Weber lied in his affidavit," Whyte said.

Chapman also told Ferguson that the reason so many people are taking change of judges from Weber was due to his ranking in the ISBA poll last month.

"He (Weber) received a 35 percent approval rating," Chapman said, "that is the lowest of any judge in the history of the state."

Weber was visibly disturbed in his courtroom after Chapman made the comments.

The ISBA said of their Feb. 22 poll, "Poll results reflect the opinion of the attorneys who chose to respond and not the opinion of the Illinois State Bar Association."

Less than 50 percent of the ballots sent out to ISBA members in the 3rd Circuit were returned: 580 ballots were mailed; 242 were returned.

In the category "meets requirements of office" Weber received just 35.54 percent of the "yes" vote--the fourth lowest tally of all circuit judges in the state in the 2006 poll. His opponent, Edwardsville personal injury attorney Dave Hylla, a Democrat, received a recommended rating of 91.85 percent.

Godfrey attorney and banker Tom Long, Weber's campaign manager, said that voters should reject the results of the polls on judicial qualifications by the ISBA because of the influence of personal prejudices and politics in the responses.

"In the poll that really counts - the one by voters on Election Day in November - I think the voters will remember that Don Weber's first concern has always been the law - not the lawyers," Long said in a prepared statement. "He's always been dedicated to representing the people of Madison County - not the bar association."

By contrast, Madison County Circuit Judge George Moran Jr., who abruptly retired from the bench after 28 years in office in early February, received 78.05 percent "recommended" rating in the survey taken in 2000. Moran also scored good marks for integrity, health and temperament.

Moran's departure set up a contest between Madison County Associate Judges James Hackett and Barbara Crowder.

Hackett, a Republican, fared better in the ISBA survey than his Democratic opponent Crowder. Hackett received a 95.06 percent "yes" vote on the question of meeting requirements of office, to Crowder's 90.78 percent.

The advisory poll is conducted by mail and is sent to all ISBA members in the circuit or district from which a candidate seeks election. The survey also asks seven other questions that measure such qualities as legal ability, integrity, impartiality, judicial temperament and health.

Before concluding the hearing, Ferguson said that he is going to read all of the briefs filed and try to make a ruling by Wednesday.

Ann Knef and Steve Korris contributed to this article

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