Weapons of mass litigation may destroy former allies

Steve Korris Apr. 19, 2007, 11:00pm

Richard Burke

Brad Lakin

Attorneys who perfected weapons of mass litigation now turn the weapons against each other.

At Edwardsville, Belleville, East St. Louis and Chicago, the Lakin Law Firm of Wood River and Freed & Weiss of Chicago wage a war of words.

Each wishes to kick the other out of class action suits they filed together.

Unintentionally they spread the irony a foot thick.

Freed & Weiss wants to transfer a Lakin claim from Madison County to Cook County under the doctrine of forum non conveniens.

Freed & Weiss helped the Lakins successfully resist countless motions of class action defendants to transfer cases under that doctrine.

Freed & Weiss brazenly asserts that if Madison County were convenient for them, they would not have needed the Lakin firm in the first place.

They point out that when they traveled to Madison County on class actions, somebody reimbursed them.

More brazenly, they argue that clients deserve Freed & Weiss with its fine reputation rather than the Lakins with their scandals.

Most brazen of all, Freed & Weiss partner Eric Freed ducked a Lakin deposition and left the country.

For sheer brass, the Lakins can keep up with Freed & Weiss.

In a class action suit at U. S. District Court in East St. Louis, the Lakins tried to block a deposition of Richard Burke, who used to work for them.

They said there was no point in deposing Burke because he would lie.

As the attorneys continue to battle the only way they know how, they will reveal more and more about themselves.

In a Madison County suit between the firms, Freed & Weiss submitted a nine page printout of Lakin contacts with a database they share.

The printout shows 273 contacts from Jan. 30 to Feb. 28.

The printout lists a case name for each contact, so any citizen can walk into the courthouse and study the Lakin firm's priorities.

Freed & Weiss filed the printout to support its argument that the Lakins don't need backup tapes that they claim they need.

The Lakins sued for the tapes in January, in chancery court.

Freed & Weiss answered that they would release the tapes when the Lakins paid for them.

They argued that the Lakins would suffer no harm in the meantime because they could still use the database.

In the same suit the Lakins seek an order removing Freed & Weiss from their joint class actions.

Freed & Weiss argues that no single judge can remove the firm from cases in Madison County, St. Clair County and federal court.

Madison County assigns chancery cases to unelected associate judges. For this case, Chief Judge Ann Callis assigned Associate Judge Richard Tognarelli.

Tognarelli has set an April 25 hearing on the motion of Freed & Weiss for transfer to Cook County.

Freed & Weiss sued the Lakins and other attorneys in Cook County in February, seeking to dissolve the partnership and asking for other relief.

Defense attorneys who seldom held any advantage in Lakin class actions have now begun exploiting the rift between the former partners.

Al Pranaitis of Alton, defending Integrated Health Plan in federal court on March 5, asked Magistrate Judge Donald Wilkerson for permission to depose Burke.

After the Lakins fired Burke last year, he sued them. He continues working on class actions, in association with Freed & Weiss.

Pranaitis told Wilkerson that according to Burke, the Lakin firm would not be adequate to handle class actions.

Pranaitis said, "They are basically saying you need to put a gag on Richard Burke so nobody can ask him any questions."

He said, "They have said you can't accept what Mr. Burke says as true. Well, that is the very reason that you take a deposition."

Wilkerson did not rule on the deposition, but he declared Jeffrey Millar of the Lakin firm adequate as class counsel.

In the latest twist, Freed & Weiss on April 13 opposed a Lakin motion to compel a deposition of partner Eric Freed.

The Lakins had sent Freed a deposition notice in February.

Michael Nester of Belleville wrote, "Freed is currently out of the country on a trip that was planned well before Plaintiff filed the motion to compel – and before this lawsuit was even filed."

Nester wrote that Freed would return "within the next several months."

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