Lakin asks for last minute Weber substitution; claims judge is biased toward firm

Steve Korris Nov. 30, 2006, 3:31am

Brad Lakin

Brad Lakin, whose law firm failed to prove bias on the part of Madison County Circuit Judge Don Weber in March, has asked the court for another chance to prove it.

Lakin petitioned for substitution in a suit against Countrywide Insurance Nov. 20, claiming Weber showed bias in statements to the League of Women Voters.

Lakin filed the petition a day before Weber would have held a hearing on a motion of Countrywide for summary judgment. The hearing did not happen.

Still, a Lakin petition to get rid of Weber sounds more like vengeance than strategy.

Lakin wrote, "Judge Weber's statements did not attack issues, he attacked the Lakin Law Firm."

He wrote, "Judge Weber points directly to his opposition to the Lakin Law firm as a moment of victory and pride. He characterizes the Lakin Law Firm as epitomizing that which is wrong with Madison County judiciary and the target of his reforms."

He wrote, "He founded his campaign on the idea that he will fight to reform the Madison County judiciary, and that fight is one he has with the Lakin Law Firm."

He wrote that Weber acted on "an ideology bent on making 'reforms' by harming Lakin and other plaintiffs' attorney."

He wrote that Weber told the League of Women Voters, "I was the first judge in 30 years that told the Lakin Law Firm, no. Because I had the integrity to tell them no, but more importantly I had the courage to tell them no."

Lakin's petition also revived a claim that Weber holds bias because the firm represented someone who sued him in 1992.

In March Chief Judge Edward Ferguson decided that the 1992 suit did not prove bias. He declared Weber a fair judge.

For more proof of bias Lakin's new petition claims that Weber allowed a witness to ignore a subpoena prior to a hearing on summary judgment.

Lakin wrote, "Judge Weber is not just acting in a discretionary way that Plaintiff finds inconvenient; Judge Weber is deliberately ignoring Illinois Supreme Court rules to disarm Plaintiff."

He wrote, "…this represents one more attempt to sabotage cases of the Lakin Law Firm."

In the Countrywide case Todd Morgan claims he paid excessive courier fees when closing a home loan. He seeks to represent borrowers in a class action.

In spite of the apparent futility, Countrywide attorney Douglas Stultz of Edwardsville opposed substitution Nov. 27.

He called Lakin's petition "the latest in a series of attempts by Plaintiff's counsel to put off Countrywide's meritorious summary judgment motion so that it can be heard by a new judge, less familiar with the history of this case."

He wrote, "The complete factual record, which Morgan conveniently ignores, reveals that Judge Weber has bent over backward to provide Morgan and his counsel with a full and fair opportunity to oppose Countrywide's summary judgment motion."

Countrywide moved for summary judgment June 20, arguing that Morgan paid the fee voluntarily.

Eight days later Weber gave the Lakin firm 90 days to conduct discovery on the motion.

When the time ran out, Weber set a hearing on summary judgment Nov. 9.

According to Stultz, Paul Marks of the Lakin firm called and said he would be out of town on business Nov. 9. They agreed to continue and Weber reset it for Nov. 16.

The Lakin firm filed an emergency motion Nov. 8, to allow discovery of UPS billing records. The motion sought to continue the Nov. 16 hearing.

Judge Weber heard the emergency motion Nov. 9 – and Marks showed up.

Weber granted the motion for UPS discovery. The Lakin Firm asked for 14 days to serve a subpoena under a Supreme Court rule, plus time to receive it and review it.

Weber, with little time to spare, set the hearing Nov. 21. His last official day on the job is Dec. 1.

The petition for substitution knocked out the hearing.

The timing bothered Stultz. He wrote that Lakin raised the issue of statements to the League of Women Voters 60 days after Weber made them.

He wrote, "This 60 day delay provides strong evidence that Morgan and his counsel's recently conceived concerns about Judge Weber's purported bias are more professed than real."

He wrote that Weber granted an emergency motion he could have denied outright.

He wrote that Morgan could have served a subpoena on UPS in the 90 day discovery period that started in June.

He wrote that Weber accommodated Morgan by allowing last minute discovery and granting a five day continuance of the hearing.

He wrote, "Such is not the conduct of a biased judge. Rather, it is the conduct of a judge exercising his discretion to control and manage his docket in a fair and impartial manner."

Lakin's petition calls on Weber to assign the petition to a different judge.

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