Illinois Bell ordered to set straight bungled $90 million refund

Steve Korris Feb. 13, 2009, 6:00am

Illinois Bell bungled a $90 million refund to customers eight years ago and must pay to set it straight, Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack ruled on Feb. 2.

Stack excused the refund as a "mistaken interpretation" of state law and held that "no form of punishment should be imposed."

He pleaded with lawyers to spare him the labor of redistribution.

"There has been discussion of costly and time consuming discovery which might be necessary to fashion any remedy," he wrote.

"The court encourages the parties to attempt to treat each other with a degree of professional courtesy in this regard," he wrote.

Big Sky Excavating sued Illinois Bell in 2003, alleging it improperly favored Chicago businesses in distributing a refund that Illinois legislators enacted.

Illinois Bell and legislators crafted the refund to settle claims of anti-competitive practices before the Illinois Commerce Commission.

At a hearing last April, Big Sky attorney Thomas Londrigan of Springfield estimated that Illinois Bell shortchanged downstate customers by $20 million.

When Stack asked whether Illinois Bell would pay from its own funds or recover excess payments in Chicago, Londrigan said that was Illinois Bell's problem.

"If they want to go after those people and suggest that they were in error and paid and they are entitled to a refund, that's their business," Londrigan said.

Illinois Bell claimed Stack lacked jurisdiction because redistribution amounted to rate-making and only the Illinois Commerce Commission could make rates.

Stack wrote in his order that, "There does not appear to be any remedy to the plaintiffs with the Commerce Commission."

He decided he didn't commit any rate making because "there exists an ascertainable and just manner of calculating any further refunds that might be due."

"The court is not granting summary judgment, however, on the issues of the amount nor the manner of making any such refunds," Stack wrote.

"It has been perceived by this court as one of the best 'brain teasers' encountered in years and it does not require much to tease this brain anyway."

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