ARDC files new complaint against class action attorney

Ann Knef Jan. 9, 2009, 5:00am

Class action attorney Paul Weiss faces charges of assault and battery by three women who worked at his Chicago law firm, Freed & Weiss, according to a complaint filed against him by the Illinois Attorney Registration and Discipline Commission (ARDC).

Weiss was suspended by the Illinois Supreme Court in 1997 for making obscene phone calls to several women, including a minor whom he'd seen at a high school volleyball game.

The new complaint was entered Dec. 4 -- the same day a New Jersey court gave preliminary approval to a Sprint class action settlement in which Weiss, class counsel, stands to share $4.6 million in attorneys' fees.

Weiss, whose firm has been among the most active class action counsel in Madison and St. Clair counties, is alleged to have violated the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct. The allegations, according to the complaint amended on Jan. 5, include:

  • In the summer of 2003, he approached an 18-year-old file clerk who "was walking down the hall dressed in a khaki skirt and black shirt. Respondent came up behind her, said 'you look great,' and then grabbed her buttocks and said, 'I just wanted you to know that.'"

  • The file clerk was the half-sister of a legal assistant employed at the firm, who claims that in her first week of employment in 2001, at age 19, Weiss allegedly "brought her into a new office space, stood extremely close to her, and made a comment to her about wanting to kiss her."

    The complaint itemizes several instances of alleged assault and battery, as well as instances of repeated telephone harassment. It also states, "At some time after January 7, 2003, Respondent cornered (legal assistant) while she was on her way to the office restroom.

    "Respondent then forced (legal assistant) into a stairwell where he attempted to kiss her. Respondent grabbed (legal assistant's) breasts, touched her vagina over her clothing and attempted to put his hand down her pants. When (legal assistant) resisted Respondent's advances, Respondent exposed himself and masturbated until he ejaculated on the stairwell wall. During this incident, (legal assistant) repeatedly requested that he release her and stop what he was doing."

  • An associate attorney hired in 2002 claims she was terminated at the end of her first year after rebuffing Weiss's advances.
    "On September 13, 2002, Respondent entered (associate's) office to discuss a legal matter. Respondent then interjected, 'You know, you need to start coming in here wearing some low-cut (expletive) because sex sells.' (Associate) replied with disgust, that sex had nothing to do with work."

    The ARDC claims Weiss has engaged in misconduct by committing criminal acts and has engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice and which tends to bring the courts or legal profession into disrepute.

    Jerome Larkin, ARDC administrator, and his counsel, Wendy Muchman, have asked the matter be assigned to a hearing board panel, that a hearing be held, and that a recommendation for discipline be made as warranted.

    Court records related to Weiss's 1997 suspension indicated that he had been diagnosed with a mental condition called telephone scatologia, a psychiatric disorder characterized by a recurrent urge or fantasy to make obscene telephone calls.

    His suspension lasted 30 days and he was placed on probation by the ARDC for two years. Weiss moved to Seattle and practiced law there while his punishment was meted out in Illinois.

    Weiss resumed practice in Illinois in 1998, where he began securing large verdicts and settlements as co-lead counsel on several class-action suits in Madison County with Brad Lakin of the Lakin Law Firm.

    But the firms had a falling out in 2006 and filed suits and counter suits over control of class actions.

    Last year, the Lakin Law Firm settled a Madison County suit against Freed and Weiss, and Freed and Weiss settled a Cook County suit against the Lakin firm.

    But the detente was short-lived as the two firms recently renewed their battle over competing Sprint class actions.

    Two days after taking office, Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth denied Lakin's emergency motion for a restraining order against Freed & Weiss and Sprint involving the New Jersey class action.

    At a Dec. 3 hearing, Ruth played referee between Lakin and Richard Burke, who teamed with Freed & Weiss after Lakin fired him.

    The new judge inherited the case from retiring judge Nicholas Byron, who certified a national class action against Sprint and appointed Lakin's firm as class counsel.

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