Why Lakin case is important

Ed Murnane Jun. 11, 2006, 7:43am

There were two news articles in weekend newspapers recently concerning the "Lakin story" and one of them merits comment.

In fact, the story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch "No Charges Filed Yet in Case Involving Metro East Lawyer" underscores the importance of the sordid and ongoing story to the judicial system in Southern Illinois.

The Post-Dispatch reports that no criminal charges have been filed and no one has been arrested.

But one of the apparent reasons for the lack of legal action (other than the filing, then withdrawal, of a civil suit) is because of a declared conflict of interest by Madison County State's Attorney Bill Mudge.

According to the Post-Dispatch, Mudge had worked in a law firm that had represented Thomas Lakin in his second divorce.

Mudge reportedly asked Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to step in but she declined also, "citing conflicts of her own that included $66,000 in campaign contributions from the Lakin family in addition to a $5,695 donation of an airplane for a campaign fly-around."

The Lakin-Mudge connection and the Lakin-Madigan connection, as indirect as they might be, are likely to only be the tip of the iceberg as far as the Lakin Law firm influence and control over the judicial system in the Metro East (Madison-St. Clair counties) area.

The Lakin Law Firm, one of the most successful and profitable plaintiffs' firms in Southern Illinois (indeed, in Illinois), was the home of former Illinois Appellate Judge Gordon Maag. Maag's son also worked there until recently. It currently is home for State Rep. Jay Hoffman of Collinsville.

The Lakins have been major contributors to judicial candidates, as well as many Illinois Democratic candidates. Their close connections with Madison and St. Clair county judges has certainly not been harmful to them.

The Lakins have been highly protective of their empire. In 2003, when leaders of four civil justice reform organizations conducted a press conference on the steps of the Madison County Court House urging reform, Brad Lakin presented the four (including the Illinois Civil Justice League) with subpoenas, demanding that they turn over the records of their contributors and supporters. (All of us exercised our rights to refuse on constitutional grounds and the subpoenas were withdrawn.)

In short, the Lakin Law Firm has been a significant supporter, defender and active participant in the Metro East legal system and the firm has been as much a builder of that system as any of the judges the firm has helped install.

Thomas Lakin may beat the civil suit filed against him, and he may beat the charges if any criminal activity is initiated. It's questionable that any action will ever be taken because the Lakin Law Firm has friends in very high places and most of them don't want anything to do with him or the issue right now.

But if the negative portrayal -- accurate or not -- of the Lakins continues to bubble, the influence of the firm will drop like a rock, and that is good. Judges in the area already are feeling the heat and they do not need to have any ties to Tom Lakin or his family.

The second article, in the Belleville News-Democrat headlined "Lakin Portrait Includes Cheerleaders" doesn't need any comment from this corner.

We've had at least one comment from an ICJL member who suggested we don't need to report on the Lakin story. Normally we wouldn't.

But as described above, the Lakin Law Firm has been so dominant in the Metro East judicial system that if they are crumbling, it should be of interest to those who are or have been victims of the Metro East judiciary. It should be welcome news, in fact.

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