Defense attorney accuses Lakin firm of 'unclean' hands in old class action

Steve Korris Nov. 1, 2007, 2:13am

Troy Bozarth

Attorney Troy Bozarth, calm in court or on paper, brings sensational new charges against the Lakin Law Firm.

Bozarth has answered a new complaint in an old Lakin class action by accusing the firm of misrepresentation, collusion, bad faith and unclean hands.

He added a mysterious charge that, "Plaintiffs' counsel advance interests herein of entities and groups other than the purported class."

Bozarth, of Hepler Broom in Edwardsville, represents Mid-Century Insurance and Farmers Insurance Exchange in a suit the Lakins filed in 1999 over payments of medical bills.

His Oct. 19 brief for Circuit Judge Daniel Stack opens a door to the first investigation of the firm's hugely successful plunge into class action litigation.

The Lakins face plenty of charges already.

Former Lakin lawyer Richard Burke, former Lakin teammates at Freed and Weiss in Chicago, former clients and a former insurer have all sued the firm.

The Lakins also face eviction from their office and repossession of their computers.

Grand jurors at U.S. District Court in East St. Louis have indicted the firm's founder, Tom Lakin, on morals charges.

No one has explored the original connection between the Lakins and Chicago attorney Paul Weiss, but Bozarth points in that direction.

In 1998, as Madison County turned into a national class action magnet, the Lakins missed out on the action.

To catch the wave they connected with class action experts Freed and Weiss, who had found they could not always work their will in Cook County court.

Together the firms filed a series of class action claims in Madison County against insurers that allegedly underpaid on medical bills from car crashes.

The informal partnership showed so much potential that they set it in writing.

Last year the partnership crumbled. The Lakins fired Burke, who opened his own office and associated with Freed and Weiss.

The Lakins sent a letter to all class action clients in February, asking them to choose between the Lakins and Freed and Weiss.

Most Madison County clients picked the Lakins.

Freed and Weiss withdrew from Lakin suits but reserved the right to seek remedies.

The Lakins chose to pursue some class actions and let others stand still.

In July they amended their complaint against Mid-Century and Farmers Insurance Exchange, for the sixth time.

They moved to certify two national classes of crash victims - those with medical bills that a computer reviewed and those with bills that a contractor, Concentra, reviewed.

On Concentra reviews they proposed to recover damages back to 1989. On computer reviews they set no time limit.

They offered Sallie Lewis and Maria Hernandez as class representatives.

The insurer had reduced three claims of Hernandez from $75 each to $69 each, for a total dispute of $18.

Bozarth's answer opposed class certification, arguing that the claims of the plaintiffs and the rest of the proposed class vary substantially.

He wrote that Farmers Insurance Exchange did not belong in the case because it did not issue the policies that were the subjects of the complaint.

He wrote that the expenses the plaintiffs sought were not reasonable or necessary and that they were not related to a covered accident.

He wrote that the claims of Lewis and many members of the proposed class were barred by arbitration, appraisal or alternative dispute resolution.

Then Bozarth unloaded heavy lumber.

"Plaintiffs and the putative class members have misrepresented the underlying facts, character, nature, extent or amount of their claims," he wrote.

"Plaintiff and the putative class members have engaged in collusive conduct which bars or limits recovery in this matter.

"The claims of plaintiffs and the putative class members are barred or limited by the insureds' or claimants' contributory bad faith or contributory conduct.

"Plaintiffs and the putative class members do not have clean hands in bringing this action."

He wrote that they failed to name a necessary party, apparently meaning Concentra.

Covering all bases, Bozarth moved for transfer to a more convenient forum, demanded a jury trial and prayed for dismissal.

Stack has not set a hearing in the case.

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