Legal malpractice trial will last past Easter

Steve Gonzalez Mar. 14, 2008, 3:19am


A legal malpractice trial seems to have eternal life in Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack's courtroom.

Easter will arrive March 23 and yet the trial pitting Magna Bank against its former counsel Thompson Coburn will still be going on -- about a month longer than expected so that defense can finish making its case.

And while the case was dragging on, Stack had to excuse a juror because of a planned vacation, leaving only one alternate for the remainder of the trial.

The parties were aware of the juror's planned absence but chose him anyway, believing the trial would be wrapped up by vacation time.

Other delays have included a juror's recent illness which put things behind one day. And, last week Stack was in Chicago three days for a judicial conference.

This week jurors got to watch lots of television, as nine hours of video depositions of former Magna Trust president Roger Beaman and Magna's general counsel Carolyn Ryseff were played for the jury.

Thompson Coburn began its defense March 6, by calling plaintiff attorney Rex Carr to the stand.

Representing Thompson Coburn, Carrie Hogan of Jones Day in Chicago put Carr on the stand and asked him a series of questions about his role in steering clients to James Gibson -- a common practice among personal injury lawyer during the notorious businessman's reign.

Gibson ended up swindling structured settlements from children and widows.

Magna Bank sued its former legal team for not trying hard enough to stop Gibson.


The crux of the case goes back to 1985 when Gibson, now in prison, took up the business of structuring settlements under an agreement with a bank that Magna later acquired.

Personal injury lawyers who represented clients that received jury awards or settlements would advise their clients to enter into a structured settlement with Gibson's company, SBU.

Carr has told jurors that Gibson used government bonds instead of an annuity, like most structured settlements at that time used, which made Gibson's pitch unique.

In 1993 Gibson told Magna Bank that pursuant to contract, he would terminate the agreement and take the money elsewhere.

Magna Bank refused to turn the money loose, so Gibson sued the bank.

St. Clair County Circuit Judge Robert Hillebrand ruled that the agreement allowed termination. He granted summary judgment to SBU. Magna appealed to the Fifth District, when Gordon Maag was a justice, but the summary judgment was affirmed.

After several more years of litigation, Magna gave possession of the government bonds to Flag Financial, a shell corporation Gibson owned in Missouri.

Carr claims that based on the advice of Thompson Coburn, Magna did not file an appeal with the Illinois Supreme Court because the law firm allegedly advised the bank that it had no grounds to resist SBU's termination of Magna's trusteeship and joined in a stipulation with SBU by appointing Flag Finance as the successor trustee which allowed Gibson to have possession of the bonds.

Gibson eventually stole the money and purchased homes, cars and yachts.

More News