Lawyer scratches old wound as former courtroom allies wage battle

Steve Korris Sep. 14, 2007, 1:52am

Richard Burke

Attorneys at Freed and Weiss in Chicago cheated a man out of $250,000 according to a letter Brad Lakin submitted to Madison County Associate Judge Richard Tognarelli. But the apparent victim says it didn't happen.

"It's not true," Chicago attorney David Sternfield said after Lakin injected the accusation into a suit he filed against Freed and Weiss in January.

Tod Lewis, formerly of Freed and Weiss, raised the accusation in a March 26 letter to the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.

On Sept. 6, Lakin attached Lewis's letter to a new version of his complaint against Freed and Weiss.

According to the letter, Freed and Weiss owed Sternfield a referral fee of $333,333.33 but they paid him $83,333.33.

"That's not the way it is," Sternfield said Sept. 12.

"What he alleged in the ARDC letter isn't true," Sternfield said.

He said he was satisfied with his fee.

"Don't get me wrong," he said. "Everyone wants money. I'm just not going to make money by making (expletive) up."

He said the ARDC did not contact him about Lewis's letter.

"If they did, I would tell them the same thing," he said.

"Tod was all bent out of shape about his work situation."

Lewis left Freed and Weiss last September. He quit practicing law and took a job as a hedge fund analyst in Texas.

He did not complain to ARDC right away. He sent the letter after Freed and Weiss sued him along with the Lakin firm in Cook County.

After reporting Sternfield's fee, Lewis reopened an old wound at ARDC.

He charged Weiss with harassing four women and a 17-year-old.

Ten years ago the Illinois Supreme Court suspended Weiss for 30 days for harassing females.

Lewis wrote, "These women told me that the harassment included improper and unwanted advances and touching by Mr. Weiss and lewd and disgusting telephone calls by Mr. Weiss."

At the end he wrote, "Freed and Weiss's complaints against me are false and harassing."

Two days later he moved to dismiss the Cook County suit, arguing that he left Illinois months before the events in the suit took place.

The suits in Madison County and Cook County revolve around last year's breakdown of a partnership between the Lakins and Freed and Weiss.

Each firm has moved to transfer the other's suit to its own home court.

The firms cooperated in class actions from 1998 to last year.

According to the new Lakin complaint, Richard Burke of the Lakin firm and Freed and Weiss planned before May 2006 to steal Lakin business.

Lakin counsel Charles Chapman wrote, "When false accusations were lodged against the Lakin Law Firm and Brad Lakin in May 2006, Freed and Weiss and Burke attempted to implement the plan and lure the Lakin Law Firm's employees and clients away."

"Burke in his opportunistic way said, 'This changes everything. We're in control now,'" Chapman wrote.

He wrote that Freed and Weiss shifted resources away from Lakin class actions to new class actions against the same defendants.

He claimed Freed and Weiss fraudulently tried to divert fees from the Lakins.

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