Battle of the bottom feeders

The Madison County Record Feb. 8, 2009, 12:59pm

A certain brand of class action lawyer likes to shop around.

For the most ambitious, question mark cases, not any judge will do. It takes an extra-special, plaintiff-friendly one to allow titanic cases to go forward over such trifling matters.

So we had to smile this week, reading Steve Korris' report about the New Jersey class action lawyer crying foul about a corporate defendent itself shopping for the "right" class action lawyer.

Anthony Coviello claims mobile phone giant Sprint/Nextel--facing multiple class action lawsuits from multiple groups of lawyers over "improper" early cancellation fees-- shopped its settlement offer among the multiple class action lawyers.

And just as his ilk looks for plaintiff-friendly judges who will allow what seem to be asinine claims, the company looked to strike a deal with the least accomplished, maybe even desperate group of lawyers it could dig up.

Enter two of Madison County's finest-- the one-and-only Richard Burke and his longtime class action partner, Paul Weiss.

Coviello claims the duo rushed to settle a class action in New Jersey because Weiss "is now facing imminent suspension or even permanent disbarment."

We've reported often on the travails of Mr. Weiss on these pages. Once a trusted partner whose expertise brought the Lakin Law Firm into the modern class action age, Weiss faces charges by the Illinois Attorney Regulatory and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) alleging misconduct towards female employees. The charges were filed Dec. 4.

According to Coviello, Weiss rushed to settle his Sprint Nextel class action suit weeks earlier, after he learned the company was in settlement talks on an identical New Jersey case. Weiss then became a willing participant in what the New Jersey lawyer dubs a "reverse auction."

It's a race to the settlement bottom, Coviello complains, in which lawyers take less so they can guarantee they get something. Coviello may stand to get nothing.

We're trying to hold back our tears.

Lost in this nasty settlement shuffle is the plaintiff in the case, the allegedly-wrongfully-charged-for-termination Jessica Hall. It's difficult to notice, but this is her gripe they're purporting to represent.

Is she satisfied justice is being served? Maybe someone should ask her how it feels to be a victim. And we don't mean of Sprint Nextel.

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