Lakin firm picks class action prunes to pursue

Steve Korris Mar. 8, 2007, 1:31am

Brad Lakin

Troy Bozarth

While Lakin Law Firm attorneys let most of their class actions languish in Madison County, they pursue the ones with the greatest potential for embarrassment.

In a suit against American Family Insurance, they seek a substitute for a class representative whose death they concealed or failed to notice for two years.

They seek a substitute for a former Lakin Law Firm secretary who dropped out as class representative in a suit against Ford Motor Company.

Strangest of all, in a suit against Countrywide Home Loans they continue to expose the shaky foundation of the class action tower they built so quickly.

In 2002 the Lakin firm began filing class action complaints for borrowers who alleged that lenders added improper fees when closing home loans.

Like other Lakin class action complaints, these carried the names of Chicago attorneys below the names of Lakin attorneys.

The loan in each complaint had closed at Centerre Title, a company that attorney Emert Wyss owned and operated next to his law office in Alton.

Wyss had searched Centerre Title records to find plaintiff prospects for the Lakin firm.

Though Wyss did not add his name to the complaints, he would testify in a deposition that he stood to collect 10 percent of the proceeds.

In 2003 the Lakin firm sued Countrywide on behalf of Todd Morgan, claiming the lender improperly charged him $30 for courier service.

The roster of plaintiff attorneys included Malik Diab of Chicago.

Countrywide attorneys recognized his name because he had represented Countrywide as a defendant in 19 lawsuits.

He had represented Countrywide against a claim like Morgan's claim.

Countrywide moved to disqualify all plaintiff attorneys for improper communication.

Diab withdrew. For the others, Circuit Judge Philip Kardis denied disqualification.

When Kardis retired the case passed to Circuit Judge Don Weber. When Weber lost his bid for a full term last fall his cases passed to the victor, Circuit Judge David Hylla.

Countrywide attorney Troy Bozarth of Edwardsville has asked Hylla for summary judgment.

In a Feb. 27 brief, Bozarth wrote that Wyss and others systematically searched Centerre's closed loan files for potential claims.

Bozarth wrote that the group decided to solicit Morgan based on Wyss's belief that $30 was exorbitant for an overnight delivery.

"The undisputed testimony, however, is that there were at least two deliveries made by Countrywide's St. Louis branch to Centerre – the delivery of loan documents to the closing table and the delivery of the loan proceeds to Centerre at least two days after closing," Bozarth wrote.

"At his deposition, Wyss acknowledged that Centerre sometimes received multiple deliveries from lenders, and testified that if he had known that Countrywide had made more than one delivery to Centerre, he would not have considered a $30 courier fee exorbitant," he wrote.

"Indeed, Wyss's own company, Centerre, charged the Morgans a $30 courier at closing for two deliveries," he wrote.

He wrote that Morgan testified that he understood the fee and paid it voluntarily.

Hylla has set a March 27 hearing on the motion for summary judgment.

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