Dueling class action firms seek home field advantage

Steve Korris Apr. 12, 2007, 8:00am

While attorneys from Chicago attack the Lakin Law Firm in their county, attorneys from the Lakin firm fight back in their county.

The Lakin firm on March 27 notified Madison County judges that many of its clients terminated the Chicago firm of Freed & Weiss as co-counsel.

According to the Lakin firm's notices, Freed & Weiss failed to notify the court of the terminations.

Freed & Weiss likely will not turn the suits loose without a struggle.

The firm claims in a Cook County suit that the Lakin firm has wrongly withheld its share of proceeds from class action settlements.

The dispute has sunk an agreement they signed in 1999 to cooperate in Madison County class actions.

The clash between law firms could escalate into a clash between counties.

While the Chicago firm seeks court action in its favor in Chicago, the Lakin firm seeks court action in its favor in Madison County.

In January the Lakin firm filed for an injunction against Freed & Weiss in the obscure chancery court of Madison County.

The Lakin firm sought an order requiring Freed & Weiss to give the Lakin firm backup tapes of files from their cases.

The Lakin firm claimed Freed & Weiss broke their agreement by filing class action suits without consulting the Lakin firm.

Freed & Weiss moved Feb. 23 to transfer the case to Cook County.

Attorney Paul Weiss wrote that the cases his firm filed without consulting the Lakin firm were not filed in Madison County.

For the Lakin firm, William Lucco of Edwardsville responded Feb. 28 that, "Many clients have terminated Freed & Weiss."

"Despite termination, Freed & Weiss has failed and/or refused to withdraw from those cases," Lucco wrote.

He wrote that the Lakin firm withdrew from Freed & Weiss cases when clients terminated the Lakin firm.

He moved March 6 to compel a deposition of Weiss's partner, Eric Freed.

Lucco warned that, "…counsel for plaintiff is concerned that Mr. Freed is going to leave the country in the near future."

On March 30 another attorney representing the Lakin firm, Charles Chapman, opposed transfer to Cook County.

Chapman, who practices independently in the Lakin firm's building, wrote that Freed & Weiss engaged in class action litigation in Madison County for years with no complaint of inconvenience.

"Their prior attitude was quite the opposite, in fact," Chapman wrote.

"For them now to assert that Madison County is an inconvenient forum in which to hear this case is disingenuous."

He wrote that among 215 cases involving both firms, 61 percent were in Madison County.

He wrote that about half their plaintiffs were Madison County residents.

"If testimony of these plaintiffs becomes necessary, which is a very real possibility given the claims involved, then travel to Chicago for that number of witnesses creates a very great inconvenience," Chapman wrote.

He wrote, "…several employees of the Lakin Law Firm may also be required to testify…"

"Madison County is host to many trials, of all kinds, per year that proceed easily, expeditiously and inexpensively," Chapman wrote.

Chief Judge Ann Callis assigned the case first to Associate Judge Ralph Mendelsohn. He recused himself.

Callis assigned it to Associate Judge Ellar Duff, but the Lakin firm moved for substitution and she granted it.

In Illinois any party can substitute a judge once without cause, if the judge has not made a substantial ruling.

Callis assigned the case to Associate Judge Richard Tognarelli. He set a hearing April 18.

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