Judge Reagan cuts claims in Lakin-Burke fight, sets deadlines

Steve Korris Jan. 4, 2008, 1:00am

EAST ST. LOUIS – U.S. District Judge Michael Reagan has set a Jan. 18 deadline for Brad Lakin to file Richard Burke's contract with the court or drop a claim that Burke breached the contract.

In a Jan. 3 order Reagan wrote that although the Lakin Law Firm alleged breach of a contract, "no such exhibit is attached."

He wrote, "LLF should have attached the exhibit to its counterclaim or else pled the terms of the contract."

Lack of a contract also prevented Reagan from assessing Lakin's claim that Burke breached a duty of good faith.

Reagan granted a motion from Burke to dismiss both claims, though he gave Lakin 15 days to refile them.

Reagan didn't need to see Burke's contract, however, to decide that Lakin could proceed with a claim that Burke breached a fiduciary duty.

Reagan denied Burke's motion to dismiss that count in Lakin's counterclaim.

According to Reagan, Lakin specifically alleged that Burke actively commenced competition with the firm while the firm employed him.

That allegation alone raised a claim for breach of fiduciary duty, Reagan wrote.

Finally he dismissed, with a 15 day refiling option, Lakin's claim that Burke committed tortuous interference with a contract or business expectancy.

"LLF fails to allege that Burke's attempts to lure employees and clients away were successful," he wrote.

"Moreover, if Burke's alleged actions were unsuccessful," he wrote, "it is difficult to see how LLF can make a showing of damages under a theory of tortuous interference."

That sounded bleak for Lakin, but the order turned bleak for Burke.

Reagan declined Burke's invitation to rule that only his conduct before departure from the firm could constitute purposeful interference.

Such a finding, he wrote, "would mean that even the most extreme post-departure conduct by an attorney in soliciting his former employer's clients could not constitute 'purposeful interference."

He wrote, "LLF need only allege that Burke engaged in some improper conduct in soliciting the firm's clients."

Lakin fired Burke about a year ago.

Burke sued the Lakin firm in federal court, seeking fees from class actions.

Lakin has filed a series of motions to dismiss Burke's claims, and Burke faces a Jan. 29 deadline to respond to the motions.

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