The Break-up

The Madison County Record Feb. 25, 2007, 7:30am

Karma is piling on the Lakin Law Firm. But neither the alleged exploits of founding partner Tom Lakin, nor the personal travails of ex-lawsuit ace Gary Peel portend to shed much light on the magic that made this wee Wood River outfit nationally notorious.

We're talking about those plaintiffs. More than reams of paper or mountains of nerve, they've been the special sauce empowering Brad Lakin and company to file and file and file so many class action lawsuits that their sheer volume would eventually make Madison County itself famous.

Just what kind of recruiting juggernaut reaps a slugger's row of serial litigants like Ashley Peach, Mark Eavenson and Lawrence Shipley? Now that Chicago-based Freed & Weiss is taking the Lakins to court, we soon could find out.

Freed & Weiss and the Lakin Firm first teamed up back in 1999, filing suits in Edwardsville against insurers State Farm, Shelter, and Farmer's. Leveraging the Chicago lawyers' class action "expertise" while sharing the financial risk and operating in America's most plaintiff-friendly venue, it seemed a match made in trial lawyer heaven.

And it was. The firms would file more than 100 class action lawsuits in the Third Circuit Court, collaborating to make hay over unresolved travesties like exorbitant fax fees and pennies leftover on gift cards. Everyone-- save those wronged plaintiffs-- got rich, as companies in their crosshairs quickly paid the lawyers to go away, mindful of Madison County's sharp-toothed reputation.

The whole practice-- lawyers conjuring up a lawsuit idea, trolling the dregs of the Metro-East for a willing stand-in plaintiff, then extorting a quick settlement from the business target-- is truly despicable. But that's all the more reason to long an inside glimpse at the process.

We've always wondered how a law firm known for its personal injury prowess could build a thriving class action practice out of nowhere.

What tactics is the Lakin Firm using to "find" these lucrative plaintiffs? Who is beating the bushes? How? And what, precisely, is the role of Lakin "of counsel" Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Collinsville) in all of this?

These details won't ring sordid at all. But they'll prove the most revealing, of the anatomy of the rise and fall of a law firm and the little county courthouse it loved. Don't miss it.

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