No small change: Lakin firm sheds lawyers and 24-cent class action

Steve Korris May 15, 2009, 6:21am





Brad Lakin lost about a fourth of his firm on May 4 as Charles Armbruster, Roy Dripps, John Winterscheidt and Michael Blotevogel set up their own shop in Alton.

The new firm's website credits Armbruster and Blotevogel with a $1,427,000 verdict for a railroad worker, while LakinChapman's website continues claiming the credit.

The breakaway happened while Lakin battled with former employee Richard Burke and former teammate Paul Weiss of Chicago for control of class actions.

Since December Lakin has stalled a settlement that Burke and Weiss reached with telephone company Sprint in New Jersey federal court.

Lakin branded it a reverse auction, claiming Burke and Weiss rushed to settle for less than he would have obtained from a class action in Madison County.

U.S. District Judge Jose Linares has taken the settlement under advisement.

The fee feud also keeps breaking out in Madison County class actions that Lakin and Weiss filed together back to 1999.

Meanwhile Lakin runs a feud on the side with Jeff Millar, who he fired in December.

In January, while Lakin intervened in New Jersey on behalf of Madison County class representative Jessica Hall, he briefly lost her as a client.

Millar obtained a letter from Hall discharging Lakin and retaining Millar.

Lakin countered with a March 9 declaration from Hall terminating Millar and choosing Phil Bock of Chicago, a Lakin teammate.

Lakin asked Linares to sanction Millar, who answered on May 4 that Hall authorized him to act on her behalf "at least until the undue influence of Mr. Lakin."

Millar wrote that his termination letter from Hall is dated February 7 but postmarked February 27, ten days before Hall's declaration.

"This strange set of affairs continues to postulate there was some nefarious conduct leading to Hall's termination of Millar as her attorney, which of course, is not before the court and left for another day," Millar wrote.

In reply for Lakin on May 8, Anthony Coviello of New Jersey summarized Millar's brief as "speculation, innuendo, hyperbole and picayune game playing."

Meanwhile Weiss runs a feud on the side with Timothy Campbell of Godfrey, who has teamed with Lakin in class actions.

Last year Campbell sued Weiss and his firm, Freed and Weiss, to recover fees from representation of class action plaintiff Gerald Bemis, a local chiropractor.

This year Campbell amended his complaint, and Burke answered that Weiss couldn't carry out his end of the contract because Bemis terminated the contract in 2007.

"Following the termination by the client any contract to represent that client is impossible of performance," Burke wrote on April 24.

"Whatever claim plaintiff may have for attorney fees earned must be made by plaintiff against the client to whom the services were provided," he wrote.

As the feuds escalated, Lakin eliminated a separate headache when he and former client Suzanne Krause of Tennessee settled a legal malpractice suit.

Krause retained the Lakin firm after a tree fell on her, and the statute of limitations ran out before the Lakins filed suit on her behalf.

Krause sued the firm and former Lakin lawyer Scott Meyer in Madison County, and Meyer counterclaimed against the firm.

On April 23 all parties stipulated that they would dismiss their claims and bear their own costs, and on April 30 Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder closed the case.

A day earlier Crowder had closed a case from the grandest time of the Lakin and Weiss partnership, when a 24 cent dispute could make men wealthy.

Crowder dismissed a suit Lakin and Weiss filed against Sprint in 2002 on behalf of Granite City resident Tara Knight.

She claimed that after Congress ordered phone companies to collect fees to improve communications for poor and rural areas, Sprint overcharged and kept the extra cash.

Millar signed the complaint and attached a monthly bill showing Knight paid 24 cents.

Sprint moved to compel arbitration and Circuit Judge George Moran denied the motion.

Sprint appealed, and in 2006 the Fifth District reversed Moran.

Arbitration began, and for three years the case remained idle but open.

At an April 29 status conference, Crowder dismissed it on a joint motion from Paul Marks of the Lakin firm and Troy Bozarth for Sprint.


Among 16 lawyers who worked for Brad Lakin two and a half years ago, eight remain at the firm they now call LakinChapman.

Rodney Caffey, Daniel Cohen, Gail Gaus-Renshaw, Craig Jensen, Paul Marks, Elizabeth Parker, Marc Parker and Robert Schmieder II show up both on law firm letterhead from January 2007 and the current Lakin Chapman website.

Charles Armbruster, Dennis Barton III, Michael Blotevogel, Richard Burke, Roy Dripps, Jeff Millar, Gerald Walters and John Winterscheidt have all departed.

Mark Brown, Andrew Kuhlmann and Jonathan Piper have joined the firm.

Charles Chapman and state Rep. Jay Hoffman, who appeared on the 2007 letterhead as "of counsel," appear on the website as members of the legal team.

More News