Madison County judge quashes motion to depose William Clay Ford, Jr.

Steve Korris Aug. 31, 2006, 11:16am

William Clay Ford, Jr.

Robert Schmieder of the Lakin Law Firm believed he could extract sworn testimony from Ford Motor Company boss William Clay Ford Jr., but Schmieder's idea turned out more as a delusion than a deposition.

Madison County Circuit Judge Andy Matoesian on Aug. 29 quashed a deposition notice that Schmieder served Aug. 18 on the chairman of the board at Ford.

Schmieder served the notice after Matoesian told him he could continue discovery in a class action suit over flaky paint.

The Lakin firm filed the suit in 1999, claiming Ford failed to disclose that paint on its vehicles would "delaminate" and flake off.

The Lakin firm proposed to certify Elaine Phillips, a secretary of the firm, as representative of a nearly nationwide class of plaintiffs.

The suit sought damages equal to the cost of repainting every Ford.

In 2003 Circuit Judge Phillip Kardis certified Phillips to represent two classes.

For one class Kardis would have applied consumer fraud laws of states with similar provisions in their laws. For the other class he would have applied common law.

When Kardis retired his cases passed to Circuit Judge Don Weber. The Lakin firm removed Weber from this and many other cases through substitution.

In Illinois any party can move once for substitution without cause, if the judge has made no substantial ruling.

The case bounced to Matoesian.

In March Ford Motor moved to decertify the class action, based on last year's Illinois Supreme Court decision in Avery v. State Farm.

The Avery decision overturned a $1.2 billion class action verdict from Williamson County and knocked the props out from under class action litigation.

Phillips chose to drop out as class representative. Schmieder filed a new complaint for two plaintiffs from Madison County, two from St. Clair County and one from Missouri.

Ford Motor moved to stay discovery pending a ruling on decertification, but Matoesian ruled Aug. 18 that discovery on decertification issues could continue.

Before the day ended Schmieder served notice that on Sept. 14 he would depose William Clay Ford Jr., at a Marriott Inn in Dearborn, Mich.

On the same day Schmieder sent a letter to Ketrina Bakewell at Bryan Cave, identifying 12 former Ford employees he wanted to depose.

Bakewell wrote back Aug. 22, asking Schmieder to withdraw the notice to Mr. Ford and reminding Schmieder that he told Matoesian he needed six to eight depositions.

Schmieder responded Aug. 23 that, "Quite simply, the Court denied Ford's motion to stay discovery. We cannot understand how Ford believes that it can unilaterally deny Plaintiffs the opportunity to depose its current and former employees…"

He wrote, "With respect to William Clay Ford Jr., nowhere did you represent that Mr. Ford lacks knowledge of the facts…"

He wrote, "We do not seek to harass Mr. Ford, but explore his personal involvement with and knowledge of the facts."

In an illuminating passage he wrote that, "…we understand that T. J. Young suffers from Parkinson's and is too ill for a deposition."

Mercilessly he added: "Please confirm this."

He wrote, "We do not appreciate Ford's continued attempts to delay and deny Plaintiffs the opportunity to conduct discovery in this matter. The Court has given us a hearing date regarding these disputes…"

Schmieder moved Aug. 24 to compel discovery and for sanctions against Ford Motor for "improper refusal" to produce its employees.

Ford Motor attorney Peter Herzog of Bryan Cave in St. Louis moved the same day to quash the Ford deposition. He renewed his motion to stay discovery.

Matoesian's Aug. 29 hearing did not turn out as Schmieder expected. The deposition of William Clay Ford Jr., flew out the window.

Matoesian set a Sept. 22 hearing on the rest of the discovery dispute.

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Organizations in this Story

Bryan Cave
1 Metropolitan Square
St. Louis, MO 63102

Illinois Supreme Court
200 E Capitol Ave
Springfield, IL 62701

Ford Motor Company
1 American Rd
Dearborn, MI 48126

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