Lawyer: Burke can't defend client; he's witness in Freed & Weiss fee dispute
Richard Burke of St. Louis can't defend the Chicago class action firm of Freed and Weiss in a fee dispute with Timothy Campbell of Godfrey because Burke may be a witness in a Madison County lawsuit over the fees, according to Campbell.
John Hoefert of Godfrey, representing Campbell, moved on Oct. 15 to disqualify Burke as counsel to Freed and Weiss in a suit Campbell filed in April.
Campbell claims Freed and Weiss collected fees that belonged to him when a group of lawyers settled class action suits against Allied Property and Casualty Insurance.
Campbell's suit and his bid to oust Burke have reopened old wounds from legal battles between Burke and the Lakin Law Firm, where Burke used to work.
Burke left the Lakins about two years ago.
At the same time, a seven year class action partnership between the Lakin firm and Freed and Weiss ended.
Burke began associating with Freed and Weiss.
Burke sued the Lakins, who sued Freed and Weiss, who sued the Lakins.
The lawyers settled their disputes after U.S. District Judge Phil Gilbert of Benton warned that they might lose all their class action clients.
Gilbert said at a hearing that "other sharks swimming in the water" would bump them as class counsel for incompetence.
The Lakins and Freed and Weiss patched up the partnership well enough to resume cooperation in some class actions they had filed together before Burke left the Lakins.
Campbell stayed on the Lakin team throughout the battle.
His April lawsuit alleged that he and Paul Weiss of Freed and Weiss agreed to represent a mutual client and divide the fees.
After the client settled, Hoefert wrote, Campbell demanded payment from Freed and Weiss but Freed and Weiss refused to pay.
"Potential witnesses, including but not limited to Richard Burke and Paul Weiss, have knowledge regarding the circumstances," Hoefert wrote.
Campbell sought actual damages in excess of $50,000 and punitive damages.
For Freed and Weiss, Burke moved in August to dismiss Campbell's complaint.
"Though the complaint is utterly vague as to the identity of the purported 'mutual client,' presumably the 'mutual client' to which plaintiff refers is Gerald Bemis," Burke wrote.
Burke wrote that in March 2007, the Lakin firm and Campbell terminated Weiss from representing Bemis.
"Thereafter defendants Freed and Weiss and Paul Weiss only represented Acuna Physical Therapy, a Texas company," Burke wrote.
When Allied settled the Bemis class action and two similar cases in other courts, Burke wrote, the Lakin firm received all fees for representing Bemis.
Campbell responded to Burke's argument by moving to disqualify Burke.
"During a substantial part of the time in question Burke worked as a lawyer in the class action department of the Lakin Law Firm," Hoefert wrote.
Burke knew that Campbell represented the mutual client and that Freed and Weiss agreed to share fees, he wrote.
"Since Burke knew of the arrangement, Plaintiff anticipates that Burke may appear as a witness in this case," he wrote.
Hoefert attached an affidavit of Brad Lakin, president of the firm, swearing that Burke worked on the Bemis case and knew that Campbell represented Bemis.
Burke knew that Campbell would share any fees, Lakin wrote.
"As an employee and while handling the Bemis case, Burke was involved in settlement negotiations," Lakin wrote.
Circuit Judge Daniel Stack presides over the case.