Struggle for class action 'remains' splits power partners

Steve Korris Feb. 21, 2007, 1:09pm

Chicago attorneys who silently rode the Lakin Law Firm gravy train for years in Madison County now claim they pulled Tom and Brad Lakin's strings the whole time.

The whole idea of piling class actions to the courthouse ceiling came from Chicago, according to a suit Freed & Weiss filed in Cook County.

Freed & Weiss seeks to recover a piece of whatever remains from the Lakin class action binge.

The struggle for the remnants has split the old Chicago club. The plaintiffs accuse other Chicago attorneys of aiding and abetting the Lakins.

When the Lakins and the Chicago attorneys signed their deal eight years ago, the Lakins needed to catch up in their own courthouse.

Other firms had jumped into class actions, and judges had pushed the claims along in snappy fashion.

Suddenly the Lakins started filing class actions in batches. For nearly six years they kept it up.

Lakin attorneys signed the complaints. Others added their names below.

Some attorneys came and went, but Paul Weiss and Michael Freed almost always appeared.

Weiss appeared for Freed & Weiss, but Michael Freed did not.

Michael Freed appeared for Much Shelist Freed Denenberg Ament & Rybinstein of Chicago.

According to a Freed & Weiss website, Weiss's partner is Eric Freed.

The names below the Lakin firm on the complaints did not appear again except on certificates of service, meaning defense attorneys sent copies of everything to Chicago.

No matter how fat the files grew, Lakin attorneys signed everything.

Once, the Chicago connection almost embarrassed attorneys at both ends.

The Lakin firm in 2003 sued Countrywide Home Loans and moved to certify plaintiff Todd Morgan as representative of a plaintiff class.

Morgan claimed Countrywide added improper fees when closing loans.

When Countrywide attorneys received interrogatories, on the signature block they noticed Malik Diab, of Diab & Bock.

Diab had defended Countrywide against similar claims.

His partner, Phillip Bock, had put his name on all the pleadings.

Countrywide moved to disqualify not only Diab & Bock but also Freed & Weiss, the Lakin firm and the firm of Campbell and Brinkley.

Attorney Beth Bauer of Edwardsville wrote that Diab drafted pleadings, investigated policies and practices, discussed strategy and reviewed internal documents.

She called for disqualification of the others because no mechanism existed to screen them from Diab.

"…[I]t is readily apparent that the four law firms work regularly and closely with each other…," she wrote.

"A strong likelihood therefore exists that the confidential information, strategy and confidences that Countrywide shared with Diab already have been disseminated to the other three firms…," she wrote.

She wrote that Bock was formerly a partner at Freed & Weiss.

Diab withdrew and Circuit Judge Phillip Kardis cleared everyone else.

The case continues today, before Circuit Judge Dave Hylla.

The national Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 dried up the stream of new class claims, but dozens of Lakin class actions kept running.

Later that year the Illinois Supreme Court knocked the props out from under class actions in Avery v. State Farm.

Insurer GEICO, relying on Avery, moved Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron to decertify a Lakin class action.

At a hearing a year ago Byron lamented Avery and called himself captain of the ship of consumers, but he obediently granted GEICO's motion.

He practically begged Brad Lakin to appeal. Lakin did not appeal.

Since then other Madison County judges have thrown out Lakin class actions on all sorts of grounds.

The Lakin firm has appealed many of those orders.

It settled its strongest claims all last year, raising revenue but gradually shutting down its class action practice.

The firm settled another Feb. 16, when Byron dismissed a six-year-old claim of Kerry Hanke against insurer AIG.

Time will tell whose revenue the settlements raised.

Former Lakin attorney Richard Burke sued the firm in federal court, claiming the firm wrongly withheld his share of settlements.

The suit of the Chicago attorneys also seeks a share of the settlements.

In spite of all, the Lakin firm still pursues dozens of class actions in Madison County.

Some Lakin class actions survive from the first blitz, eight years ago.

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