Accusations lack support in Lakin-Freed & Weiss squabble

Steve Korris Aug. 9, 2007, 3:17pm

Richard Burke

Brad Lakin

CHICAGO – Lawsuits among class action titans at the Lakin Law Firm of Wood River and Freed and Weiss of Chicago promised sensation but instead they deliver insults and platitudes.

The attorneys blame each other for wrecking their partnership, but their dire accusations lack support.

The Lakins now plead that Freed and Weiss is "under investigation," as if that gives the Lakins an ethical advantage.

Tom Lakin, founder of the Lakin firm, is under indictment on morals charges in U.S. district court at East St. Louis.

Paul M. Weiss of Chicago manages to look nearly as bad. He left the country after the Lakins tried to depose him.

Motions and briefs in all three cases sound like sandbox squabbles.

The Lakin conspiracy theory rests on an alleged statement by former Lakin lawyer Richard Burke that, "We are in control now."

The Chicago attorneys respond that the Lakins fail to explain who Burke said it to or when he said it.

The Chicago conspiracy theory rests on Lakin lawyers allegedly telling joint clients that Freed and Weiss did not pay its bills.

The Lakins respond that, "Where there is a duty to speak, a defamatory utterance is privileged."

The bickering hit a low point in a suit Freed and Weiss brought against the Lakins in Cook County.

There the attorneys battle over the price of a meal that a witness enjoyed after a deposition in downtown Chicago.

So far both firms have focused on keeping the dispute in their own court.

The Lakins claim the Madison County suit takes precedence because they filed it first.

The Chicago attorneys claim they sued first, because the Lakins later amended their complaint so heavily that they turned it into a new action.

The Chicago attorneys argue in Madison County that Cook County has developed more information seven ways, but they exaggerate.

The file in Chicago yields few new facts above the trivial.

One idea stands out. Freed and Weiss has caught the Lakins in apparent hypocrisy over the choice of forum.

Although the Lakins say they prefer Madison County, the firm has moved as a defendant in a separate case for transfer out of Madison County due to local prejudice against the firm.

In that case former client Alan Wrye alleges legal malpractice, claiming the Lakins let the statute of limitations run out on his personal injury claim.

Freed and Weiss has asked Cook County Circuit Judge Philip Bronstein for an order compelling the Lakins to produce surveys, polls or other research on venue in Madison County.

Lynn Ellenberger of Chicago, representing the Lakin firm, argues that Freed and Weiss cannot complain about litigating in Madison County.

She wrote, "…they have engaged in class action litigation with the Lakin Law Firm in Madison County since 1998."

If Freed and Weiss can keep the dispute in Cook County, Bronstein will hear the firm's petition to dissolve the partnership.

Although the Cook County case has not generated much information, it has cast a spotlight on two characters.

In the Chicago conspiracy theory, attorney Robert Schmieder plotted with the Lakins against Freed and Weiss while working for the partnership.

Schmieder, who has always identified himself with the Lakin firm, denies in Cook County that he worked for the partnership.

The spotlight also shines on Tod Lewis, the hungry witness.

Last September, Lewis resigned from Freed and Weiss. He gave up the practice of law and moved to Texas to analyze stocks.

Now Freed and Weiss alleges that he too conspired against the firm.

In April, Lewis flew to Chicago so his former employers could depose him.

When he got back to Texas he sent Freed and Weiss his receipts with a request for reimbursement of $910.96.

His receipts included a $94.82 meal at Fogo de Chao, a fancy restaurant at 661 North La Salle St. – with a $20 tip.

Freed and Weiss declared his request unreasonable and sent him $450.

Lewis moved for an order of full reimbursement. As of Aug. 3, Bronstein had not set a hearing.

While facts dribble out in Madison County and Cook County chancery courts, facts also dribble out in a suit at federal court in East St. Louis.

In that one former Lakin lawyer Richard Burke claims the Lakins betrayed their clients and the Lakins claim Burke betrayed their firm.

The Lakins fired Burke in December. He opened a St. Louis office and continued associating with Freed and Weiss in class actions.

Burke claims the Lakins owe him fees in class actions he settled.

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