Fairview Heights' Whodunit

The Madison County Record Sep. 9, 2007, 4:50am

When we last checked in on Fairview Heights Mayor Gail Mitchell, he was winning.

It was April, and Mitchell was eeking out a four vote re-election win and a fourth straight term reigning over the St. Clair County retail center.

But the mayor was also worrying. About his role allegedly volunteering his city as a put-up lead plaintiff in a dubious class action lawsuit, the kind carefully designed to do one thing: help plaintiff's lawyers get filthy rich.

At the time, voters didn't know much about it; about how a lawyer from the notorious Lakin Law Firm had been granted carte blanche to trade on Fairview Heights good name, using it as a platform to sue online travel retailers like Orbitz, Expedia, Hotwire and Travelocity on behalf of 50 Illinois municipalities. Lest they find out, Mitchell begged the court to seal his testimony in the case, fearing it would generate embarrassing pre-election headlines.

Incredibly, a judge obliged then. But that won't start the truth from finally coming out now.

Facts started pouring in last week, on the heels of Orbitz' request to depose Fairview Heights' entire city council.

Just who authorized a group of private lawyers to use the city of Fairview Heights as the lead plaintiff in a statewide class action lawsuit?

City Council members assert it wasn't them. Alderman Pat Baeske told The Record the Orbitz lawsuit had been discussed, but they never took a vote. Bonnie Crossley said the council was never told it was a class action lawsuit, that members were "deceived." Gil Klein recounted a "feisty" meeting of the council in May, post-election, led by a "high-powered class action attorney."

The attorney told aldermen their city was, indeed, leading a giant class action lawsuit.

"I was just shaking my head back and forth," said Klein.

Meanwhile, Mayor Mitchell insists he didn't authorize the lawsuit, either. Which begs the question-- just who is running Fairview Heights these days?

Wouldn't taxpayers like to find out.

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