A lawsuit claiming Brad Lakin, Kris Lakin and the Lakin Law Firm were victims of a $50 million extortion scheme was dismissed today by Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack.
Thomas Keefe, attorney for plaintiffs in a lawsuit alleging child sexual abuse, argued that a counter-suit filed by the Lakins did not establish malice or abuse of process. Keefe also argued that the Lakins' suit could not go forward because the allegations involved a case that had been withdrawn from Madison County and refiled in St. Clair County.
"It cannot serve as a basis for malicious prosecution," Keefe said.
Stack made an unusually quick decision.
"After revieing the totality of the circumstances, I do not see how this case can be proven," Stack said in a rare bench ruling.
The counter-suit claimed that the individuals and their attorney (Ed Unsell) who filed a civil sexual assault lawsuit against Lakin Law Firm founder Thomas Lakin, his firm and sons, attempted to leverage a large cash settlement. Veteran attorney Rex Carr represented Brad and Kris Lakin and the law firm, but not Thomas Lakin in the counter-suit.
On April 21, the original sexual assault case claiming Tom Lakin willfully and intentionally engaged in acts of misconduct that constituted childhood sexual abuse against Jane, John and Joseph Doe, was filed in Madison County.
The suit, filed under seal and under fictitiously named plaintiffs and defendants, was withdrawn and refiled in St. Clair County in June. The case also alleges that Brad Lakin, president of the Lakin Law Firm, and Kris Lakin, attempted to conceal evidence of abuse. It accuses Kris Lakin of childhood sexual abuse against Jane and John Doe.
Carr argued that plaintiffs in the sexual assault case used a demand for settlement like a "club over the head" of Lakins.
"It was a way of demonstrating to them that we have the power to destroy the law firm and Kris and you Brad...," Carr said.
After the hearing, Keefe said he "salutes" Judge Stack for his ruling.
"It reaffirms my faith in the court system," said Keefe. "I believe the decision was correct."
Keefe argued that attorney Bill Lucco, who represents Thomas Lakin, never suggested in the period leading up to the lawsuit being filed that his clients were abusing process or attempting to extort money.
"He (Lucco) would have said it if it was true," Keefe said.
Referring to an affidavit filed by Lucco in connection to the countersuit, Keefe said, "It's significant for what it doesn't say."
Keefe said that Lucco never contradicted an affidavit filed by attorney Unsell who stated that the Lakins -- through Lucco --requested a settlement demand.
Exchanges between the powerhouse attorneys Keefe and Carr provided comic relief during the two-hear hearing. Keefe, who argued for more than an hour, said Carr's barb that he was "windy" was like the "pot calling the kettle black."
"(This is) the man who holds the world's record for longest trial," Keefe said. He added that Carr spent six months cross-examining a witness and sometimes repeatedly asked the same question.
Carr began his argument by saying, "I am impressed by the length (of Keefe's opening) but not by the content."
Keefe said admiringly that Carr had provided "expert tutelage" some 30 years ago as a mentor.
Before ruling, Stack said it was troubling for him to hear the allegations made against the Lakins as well as Unsell, attorneys he has known for a long time.
"No one wants to see this," he said. "No one can relish these lawsuits."
The original sexual assault complaint filed in Madison County was hidden from public view when it was sealed by then-Madison County Chief Judge Edward Ferguson.
After a report was published about the lawsuit, it was withdrawn at plaintiff's request on May 5 and expunged by Judge Daniel Stack who was assigned to the case. New Chief Judge Ann Callis vacated all of the previous orders in the case regarding impoundment and expungement on May 12.
On June 14, the same case was re-filed in St. Clair County.
However, on May 16, Carr filed the suit against Unsell and his clients alleging malicious prosecution and extortion. The case was assigned to Circuit Judge Andy Matoesian. He recused himself and Callis assigned it to Stack.
Unsell claimed that Tom Lakin's attorney (Lucco) asked for a "global" settlement demand. He said a reporter told him that his newspaper was going to file a motion to unseal the case and he then placed a call to Lucco who instructed Unsell to "do something quick."
According to Unsell, Lucco figured the media would be able to convince a judge to unseal the case and wanted Unsell to withdraw the suit and have it expunged in order to protect the Lakins.
Unsell also is asking the court for sanctions against the Lakins and their attorney, Carr of East St. Louis, because they violated the pleading requirements of Supreme Court Rule 137.
Attorney Robert Gregory of Belleville attended the hearing Wednesday on behalf of the Doe family, but did not present arguments.
After the case was filed in St. Clair County it was assigned to Circuit Judge Robert LeChien, but he recused himself earlier this week. A motion to transfer the case to Madison County is pending.
Clyde Kuehn of Belleville and Scott Rosenblum of Clayton, Mo., Tom Lakin's attorneys in the civil sexual assault case, claim the suit has no practicable connection or nexus to St. Clair County.
They contend the complaint does not state where the alleged sexual assault took place and also note that all of the parties involved in the litigation reside in neighboring Madison County.
Steve Gonzalez contributed to this report