Legal malpractice case offers glimpse of asbestos settlements

Steve Korris Jan. 2, 2009, 6:15am

Judge Crowder

Asbestos lawyer John Simmons, facing trial on a widow's malpractice claim, boasts that he obtained $100,000 from W.R. Grace & Co. after the statute of limitations ran out, plus $214,000 from other businesses despite "sketchy product identification."

Simmons offered these examples in hopes of winning summary judgment and escaping a trial that Madison County Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder has set for Feb. 9.

Crowder held a hearing on summary judgment Dec. 16, and continued
it to Jan. 30.

The trial would feature the three most successful plaintiff firms in Madison County.

The Lakin Law Firm represents plaintiff Judy Buckles, who in 2006 sued SimmonsCooper and the firm where he used to work, Hopkins Goldenberg.

Buckles hired Simmons in 1999, when he worked at Hopkins Goldenberg, to represent the estate of her late husband Charles Buckles, she claims. When Simmons left Hopkins Goldenberg, he retained her case and others.

Roy Dripps of the Lakin firm alleges in Buckles' complaint that Hopkins Goldenberg entered into secret agreements with asbestos defendants to classify claims of clients and settle them "in accordance with predetermined figures of money for each such classification."

The complaint stated that Hopkins Goldenberg settled claims "for amounts of money which were manifestly inadequate and which bore no reasonable relationship to the actual loss sustained by the clients."

It stated that Hopkins Goldenberg "fabricated, exaggerated, or otherwise manipulated the bookkeeping" and wrongly ascribed advanced costs to Buckles, and that Hopkins Goldenberg settled groups of claims without obtaining consent of each client.

Simmons failed to provide timely, aggressive and zealous representation to Buckles, according to Dripps.

For Simmons, A.J. Bronsky of St. Louis moved in 2007 for summary judgment.

Bronsky attached an affidavit in which Simmons wrote, "Even though the statute of limitations had run with respect to W.R. Grace, I was able to, with Judy Buckles' consent, obtain a settlement for $100,000 in October of 2000."

Simmons wrote that he negotiated settlements with A. W. Chesterton, Durabla, GAF and Georgia Pacific, amounting to $214,000, with "sketchy product identification."

Bronsky noted that Simmons continues seeking bankruptcy payouts for Buckles.

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