Byron cancels Van Kampen hearing over 'personal commitment'

Steve Korris Apr. 25, 2008, 6:00am


Madison County Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron cancelled a May 1 hearing at which he planned to decide whether mutual fund shareholders own the assets of mutual funds.

Byron called off the hearing in an April 21 order, "because of a personal commitment."

He wrote that he would decide the question without further oral argument.

No judge in America has ruled that shareholders own assets of mutual funds, but Byron leaned that way at a March 25 hearing.

"It just hit me between the eyes," he said.

He ordered Van Kampen mutual fund to show its tax returns to plaintiff Avery Jackson, to show whether Van Kampen paid capital gains taxes on money it earned.

Stephen Tillery of St. Louis seeks to certify Jackson as representative of an investor class alleging harmful delays in calculating values of overseas assets.

Tillery did not represent Jackson at the hearing. His associate Robert King did.

King told Byron, "If we get the defendant's tax records you will see that they never paid a capital gains tax on their sales of shares to the public."

He said, "That's because it's not really theirs."

Byron said, "How much time? I don't know how long I'll be here in this office. How much time will that take?"

King said it shouldn't take long.

Byron told King and Van Kampen attorney David Koropp he would defer a decision a little over 30 days.

He set a May 1 hearing, but it won't happen.

On two other occasions in the last year, Byron behaved oddly in Tillery cases.

A year ago he reopened their famous light cigarette case, Price v. Philip Morris, in which he awarded more than $10 billion to three million Tillery clients.

The Illinois Supreme Court had thrown out the verdict twice, the U.S. Supreme Court had thrown it out, and Byron himself had signed an order dismissing the case.

Still, he and Tillery forced it on the Justices in Springfield one more time.

The Justices told Byron to put it to rest.

Last fall, in a suit against Sears Roebuck, Byron granted preliminary approval to a class settlement but recused himself before a fairness hearing.

He explained he would be "unavailable to hear any futher matters," but that notice did not appear in any other case and Byron remains available.

Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder approved the settlement, which provided about $17 million in fees for Tillery's team.

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