A $3.78 victory

The Madison County Record Apr. 18, 2009, 4:43pm

The plaintiff's lawyers won't say what they pocketed personally.

But this much we do know: their clients got pocket change.

Divide $56,733.68 by 15,000 Fairview Heights residents and you get about $3.78 per citizen. According to the city treasurer, that's the pot of gold the city received for letting three plaintiff's lawyers-- Al Paulson, Kevin Hoerner, and Richard Burke--use its good name to chase online retailer Orbitz in a dubious lawsuit over allegedly unpaid local hotel room taxes.

Since 2005, Fairview Heights has been serving as lead plaintiff in a dubious statewide class action against the online travel industry. The lawyers hoped 50 other Illinois cities would join their suit versus Orbitz, netting the lawyers many millions if they won. But that dream died when federal Judge David Herndon wouldn't certify the class.

Fairview Heights could still sue Orbitz, Herndon said, but not as lead plaintiff in a grandiose class action.

That squeezed the big money incentive out of the matter for Paulson, Hoerner, and Burke. Suddenly local hotel room taxes didn't seem like such a monumental travesty.

Not all was lost for the lawyers, though. To get them out of its hair, Orbitz apparently agreed to pay their attorney fees.

We don't expect the trio to tell us how much they personally received for spearheading this seemingly pointless legal gambit--but we are confident they made out far better than the people they represented.

Fairview Heights Alderman Gil Klein was prescient. He walked out in protest during a May, 2007 City Council discussion on the lawsuit, arguing that if the city led this suit, it wouldn't benefit as much as the lawyers.

"Class actions are an attorney's paradise," he told The Record.

But this one was wildly unsuccessful-- an embarrassing, four-year colossal waste of taxpayer resources and city employee time. Fairview Heights got pocket change and the lawyers got paid well.

Not exactly "paradise" for anyone involved in this lawsuit-- but a lesson other Metro-East municipal leaders shouldn't soon forget. Beware plaintiff's lawyers come bearing big promises-- they're only sure to keep them to themselves.

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