U.S. should start asking questions

The Madison County Record Jun. 4, 2006, 4:20am

It's human nature that we're drawn in by sordid tales in the news like those of local plaintiff's lawyers Tom Lakin and Gary Peel. But there lies a related, professional story far more important to the people than any single degenerate personal tragedy.

This one involves those class action lawsuits that have made Madison County so notorious and just how they got here-- and stayed here-- in the first place.

It's the greatest running myth in the business that these lawsuits are inspired by the wronged plaintiffs, who mosey on into the attorney's offices looking for counsel.

Of course, the attorneys themselves are the ones conjuring up the claims, sometimes even going so far as to buy consumer products with the express purpose of discovering something "actionable" within before hunting down a ready-and-willing warm body to put their name on the complaint. The practice is not just unethical but illegal, as it compromises the interest of the "class."

If you're a regular reader of The Record, you know the names of these "professional plaintiffs," some of whom have achieved local celebrity status. The Peach Family, Mark Eavenson, and Connie Gibbs are a few of our favorites.

Just what do these people get for helping these lawyers get rich suing big corporations? Since our inaugural edition, we've tried to make sure at least one media outlet in the Metro-East had the nerve to ask.

"A little justice" never sounded like enough of a reward to us. And when Armettia Peach tried to pay cash (literally) for a Granite City home last year, scheming with class action impresario Thomas Maag, our hunches weren't exactly repudiated.

Apparently, we aren't the only skeptics. New York-based Milberg Weiss, the nation's largest law firm specializing in securities class action suits, was indicted last month by the U.S. Justice Department on charges it paid plaintiffs to help it manufacture lawsuits.

Might a criminal investigation of similar behavior here in Madison County be forthcoming?

Here's hoping so. Peel and Lakin were two of the driving forces behind Madison County's class action boom. If there were ever a moment to ask them how it came to be, it would be about now.

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