Class action ace denies starting new law firm while Lakin employee

Steve Korris May 17, 2007, 5:00am

Richard Burke did not start a law office in competition with the Lakin Law Firm while he worked for the firm, according to his attorney.

He just planned it while he worked for the Lakins, says the attorney.

John "Chet" Pleban of St. Louis offered that distinction in Burke's suit against the Lakin firm at U. S. District Court in East St. Louis.

Pleban wrote, "An employee's duty of loyalty to an employer only prevents him from beginning a business while still employed by his former business."

He wrote, "It does not prevent preliminary planning for a competing business."

Burke sued the Lakins in January for firing him last year. He claimed breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud and interference with business expectancy.

He alleged that the Lakins put family interests ahead of the interests of clients. He argued that he put clients ahead of the family.

In March, the Lakin firm filed a counterclaim on breach of contract and moved to dismiss the other claims.

On May 7, Pleban opposed the counterclaim and the motions to dismiss.

He wrote that the Lakins said they would pay him seven percent of gross fees from class actions in 2006, to induce him to remain with them.

He wrote that after Brad Lakin gave Burke 90 days notice, he told Burke he would get seven percent through the end of the year.

He wrote that Lakin did not honor the commitment.

After the Lakins fired Burke, he opened a St. Louis office and associated with Freed & Weiss of Chicago, former associates of the Lakin firm.

Freed & Weiss has sued the Lakin firm in Chicago, and the Lakin firm has sued Freed & Weiss in Edwardsville.

Each seeks to kick the other out of class actions they filed together.

The Lakins hold an advantage for now, because they found local plaintiffs for class actions that Freed & Weiss proposed.

Those plaintiffs have signed letters discharging Freed & Weiss.

In Madison County, the Lakin firm has notified the court of terminations but Freed & Weiss has not withdrawn.

Freed & Weiss has moved to withdraw from a Lakin case in federal court at East St. Louis, but not without a protest.

Paul Weiss wrote May 10 that the Lakin firm obtained discharge letters from each plaintiff in Stock v. Integrated Health Plan.

He wrote, "Freed & Weiss is withdrawing pursuant to client direction and not voluntarily."

He wrote, "Freed & Weiss believes that the discharge letter was wrongfully and tortiously procured by, among others, the Lakin Law Firm."

He wrote that Freed & Weiss had no opportunity to speak to clients and was unaware that letters were sent.

He wrote, "…clients were not informed of their proper rights and liabilities in discharging Freed & Weiss."

U. S. District Judge David Herndon is assigned to the case.

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