The Madison County Record Feb. 16, 2008, 7:52am

What inspired Granite City chiropractor Mark Eavenson to file 22 class action lawsuits in 34 days?

How about 19-year-old Ashley Peach, who filed class action lawsuits over pennies against Wal-Mart, K-Mart and Fashion Bug. Or Collinsville's Connie Gibbs, named plaintiff in similarly petty class actions against Toys-R-Us and Jack-in-the-Box.

Did they do it 'just because'? Or was there some incentive?

These are questions worth considering this week in Edwardsville, one-time class action capital of the free world.

That's because America's most infamous class action lawyer is on his way to prison. And he's heading there for paying class action plaintiffs.

The lawyer's name is Bill Lerach, and his game was securities class action lawsuits, or suing "on behalf" of investors after a company's stock price dropped for one reason or another.

In 2006, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles indicted Lerach and his law firm, alleging it had secretly and illegally paid those "investors" millions to serve as plaintiffs in a torrent of suits over the past 20 years.

Lerach now admits he wasn't suing on behalf of investors at all. He was suing on behalf of himself. The plaintiffs were just put-up pawns, paid under the table to put their names on complaints concocted by Lerach's team.

All told, the plaintiff-paying scheme helped Lerach personally pocket a cool $200 million in fees, enough to make even the Metro-East's heaviest hitters blush. Not that he's too apologetic about it.

All class action lawyers were paying plaintiffs, he explained. So to compete, he had to do it.

"Believe me, it was industry practice," Lerach said.

Which brings us to Madison County, where from 2001-04, more class actions were filed per-capita than any other courthouse in the nation.

If it really were "industry practice" to pay class action plaintiffs, as Lerach said, could it have happened here?

The Lakin Law Firm has filed more than 150 class actions in the Third Circuit Court during that span, including those for Eavenson, Peach and Gibbs,

Maybe that firm is the fortunate beneficiary of plaintiff generosity? Maybe not.

We're just wondering. Perhaps the government should wonder as well.

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