Weber order rebuffs bias accusation

Steve Korris Jun. 9, 2006, 4:03am

Judge Weber

Four months after Gary Peel of the Lakin Law Firm accused Madison County Circuit Judge Don Weber of bias, Weber signed an order in a Lakin case declaring exactly what Peel asked him to declare.

Weber on May 19 denied a motion of lender RBMG to compel arbitration of Cynthia Brown's claim that it charged an unreasonable $25 courier fee at the closing of her home loan.

Peel opposed the motion in December, arguing that RBMG could not enforce an arbitration rider because Brown did not sign it when she signed the loan.

When Peel filed the motion he did not want Weber to hear it. In January Peel accused Weber of bias against the Lakin firm.

Peel moved for substitute judges in RBMG and 13 other cases.

He argued that Weber could not rule fairly in Lakin cases because a client of the firm sued him in 1992.

Weber swore in an affidavit that he paid no money in the case. He swore that he held no bias against the Lakin firm.

Chief Judge Edward Ferguson on March 27 denied Peel's motions for substitution.

Weber set to work on cases the substitution struggle had stalled.

In the RBMG case, Brown claimed in 2003 that at the closing of her loan she paid a $25 courier fee and RBMG secretly kept part of it.

The Lakin firm filed Brown's suit in a two-year string of about 25 proposed class actions over fees and charges at the closing of home loans.

The loans closed at Centerre Title, a company Alton attorney Emert Wyss operated next to his law office.

Wyss contacted former Centerre Title clients, invited them to his law office and gave them retainers to sign for the Lakin firm and three other firms.

From 2002 to 2004 the Lakin firm filed about 25 suits over mortgages fees. Plaintiffs settled a few. Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron certified two as class actions.

For RBMG, defense attorney Troy Bozarth in 2004 moved to dismiss.

Bozarth argued that Brown failed to attach a copy of the loan contract to the complaint. He wrote that she could not allege deception.

Circuit Judge Phillip Kardis set a hearing on Bozarth's motion in 2005, but five days before the hearing Bozarth withdrew the motion and moved to compel arbitration.

Bozarth wrote that Brown signed an arbitration agreement with a mortgage broker. He wrote that the agreement applied equally to RBMG.

He told Kardis to dismiss the suit or stay it pending arbitration.

Kardis held a hearing in March 2005. He gave Brown 90 days to reply to the motion. He extended the deadline twice before retiring last August.

Weber replaced Kardis and inherited Kardis's cases.

Peel responded to Bozarth's motion Dec. 21, arguing that Brown signed the arbitration rider Sept. 24, 1999, and she signed the loan Nov. 22, 1999.

He wrote that the rider expressly applied only to actions of the date she signed it.

After Ferguson cleared Weber of Peel's accusation of bias, Weber held a hearing on the arbitration motion and denied it.

Weber agreed with Peel's argument that the arbitration rider did not apply to anything signed on a different date.

He wrote, "Plaintiff correctly points out that there is no document to which RBMG is a party, or to which RBMG may succeed in interest, to which the 'Arbitration Rider' applies."

He wrote that the rider "appears to be nothing more than a unilateral license to sue on behalf of the Lender coupled with a unilateral prohibition against the same right for the Borrower."

A June 6 docket entry shows a notice of appeal. On June 7 the notice had not made it into the case file.

The Lakin firm's successful opposition availed nothing to the author of its argument.

Peel left the firm after a federal grand jury indicted him on charges of obstructing justice, bankruptcy fraud and possession of child pornography.

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