Former Madison County judge protected Lakin class action

Steve Korris May 26, 2006, 12:28am

Retired Judge Kardis

Former Lakin attorney Gary Peel

Seventeen class action suits of the Lakin Law Firm sprouted from a single bad seed, but two years ago Madison County Circuit Judge Phillip Kardis protected the Lakin firm from an investigation into the source of the suits.

Kardis quashed subpoenas that would have allowed Countrywide Home Loans to figure out if Chicago attorney Malik Diab sold its secrets to the Lakin firm.

Diab had defended Countrywide against 19 claims that it cheated borrowers with unreasonable fees and charges.

When he switched to the plaintiff side he hooked up with the Lakin firm in suing Countrywide and other mortgage lenders.

By whitewashing the mess, Kardis postponed the day of reckoning for the Lakin firm. Recent scandals have exposed the firm's dismal ethics.


The Lakin firm has led an attack on Circuit Judge Don Weber, appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court to fill the vacancy left by Kardis who retired in September, by yanking his caseload through substituion. In March, a Lakin attorney called Weber a liar in open court.

In April, Lakin lead class action attorney Gary Peel was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of bankruptcy fraud, obstruction of justice and child pornography.

Last year, Lakin Law Firm founder Thomas Lakin was disbarred from practicing in West Virginia for soliciting a local attorney's personal injury clients.

Two weeks ago, witnesses testified before a federal grand jury regarding allegations that Thomas Lakin sexually abused minors.


The Lakin firm filed 17 mortgage class actions in 2002 and 2003. Lakin attorney Vincent Rapp sued Countrywide for plaintiff Todd Morgan in 2003.

Rapp claimed Countrywide charged Morgan a $30 courier fee, paid a courier less than that, and kept the rest for itself.

Under Rapp's signature appeared Freed & Weiss of Chicago, Macey, Chern and Diab of Chicago, and Campbell & Brinkley of Godfrey.

Attorney Emert Wyss of Alton did not appear on the roster, though he stood to collect a tenth of the proceeds.

Wyss owned a loan closing company, Centerre Title, side-by-side with his law practice. He found Lakin plaintiffs in his files at Centerre Title.

Countrywide moved in 2004 to disqualify Diab and everyone else on the complaint. By then Diab had taken his practice to Diab and Bock.

Countrywide attorney Beth Bauer wrote that Diab drafted pleadings for Countrywide, discussed strategy and reviewed internal documents.

Bauer listed 14 mortgage class actions of the Lakin firm.

Diab & Bock immediately withdrew from the Countrywide case but not the others.

Paul Marks of the Lakin firm opposed disqualification of the three firms still on the case. He wrote to Kardis that Diab was screened from the case.

Marks wrote that Diab never revealed any Countrywide confidences.

He wrote, "Attorney Diab's name was inadvertently included on the signature block of Plaintiff's written discovery request because of a clerical error."

Diab filed a declaration that, "I first learned of this action after Countrywide filed its motion to disqualify…"

He declared he had performed no work on it, had never seen the file and did not consider Morgan a client.

Partner Phillip Bock declared, "I did not tell him we had filed a case."

Countrywide attorney Larry Hepler, who had traced three more mortgage class actions, told Kardis the clerical error proved coordination in the 17 suits.

Hepler wrote, "If anything, the fact that no one told Attorney Diab about this case made it more, rather than less, likely that client confidences could be shared."

Lakin attorneys Gerald Walters, Dennis Barton and Marks swore in affidavits that they never had contact with Diab. So did Timothy Campbell.

Timothy Sullivan of the Lakin firm swore he talked to Diab on another case. Thomas Maag of the Lakin firm swore he spoke to Diab once on another case.

Chicago attorneys Paul Weiss and Tod Lewis swore they knew Diab but never communicated with him on mortgage class actions.

Gary Peel, the former leader of the Lakin class action team who was terminated after his indictment, in a 2004 affidavit swore he met Diab earlier in Chicago.

Peel swore that, "The extent of our conversation was that of an introduction and we had no further conversation."

Kardis held a hearing on disqualification June 29, 2004, and took it under advisement.

A week later the head of the firm, Bradley Lakin, swore in an affidavit that he met Diab through the case of Maulding vs. Hilton.

He swore they had four or five conferences but none on Countrywide.

Daniel Cohen of the Lakin firm swore he never met Diab. He swore he talked to him once on the phone about Snyder vs. Sprint.

Jeffrey Millar of the Lakin firm swore he never had contact with Diab.

To Countrywide, the affidavits corroborated the close association of the attorneys. Bauer wrote to Kardis that seven of 12 admitted contact.

Bauer wrote that Bradley Lakin's affidavit permitted an inference that he and Diab talked about coordinated cases.

Bauer served notice that she would depose the firm of Diab & Bock, plaintiff Morgan and attorney Bock.

Peel moved to quash the depositions. He wrote to Kardis that the motion was fully briefed and argued.

Peel wrote that he had told Countrywide that Diab would withdraw from all mortgage cases. He wrote that Countrywide refused the offer.

Bauer responded that she needed to conduct more discovery because the plaintiff had offered evidence after the hearing.

She told Kardis she had discovered coordination with counsel that never appeared in this case – Emert Wyss.

She said there was no testimony on Wyss's contact with Diab or a screen between Wyss and Diab.

Peel filed a response. It did not mention Wyss.

Neither did the order Kardis signed Nov. 9, 2004, quashing Bauer's depositions.

Kardis wrote that, "…no actual knowledge was transferred from Diab to Bock."

Bauer appealed. Plaintiffs moved to dismiss the appeal.

In January 2005, the Fifth Circuit appellate court in Mount Vernon granted the motion to dismiss the appeal.

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