When "fair" seems unfair

The Madison County Record May 31, 2009, 9:44am

The defendant admits no guilt, but agrees to pay an unnamed charity $1.2 million. The plaintiffs get zilch. And the Lakin law firm lawyers pocket $650,000 in fees and expenses.

It's no wonder Judge Dan Stack says a proposed class action lawsuit settlement between two Metro East chiropractors and a health insurer "makes his brain hurt."

After five years of wrangling in our courts, Downers Grove, Illinois-based First Health cried uncle in January, agreeing to the aforementioned deal sought by the Team Lakin lawyers. Now Judge Stack has to approve it as "fair."

He needs to think until his brain hurts on this deal, because it serves as a prime example of lawyer-driven litigation benefiting the lawyers best.

In this case, the Lakin Law Firm charged First Health unfairly "cheated" chiropractors by refusing to reimburse them at the rates they desired. That was in 2004, during Madison County's class action heyday. Five years later, the legal war of attrition is over and Lakin is getting the always-desired settlement, albeit for less than the millions which were once hoped for.

What do the people gain from the settlement? What about the taxpayers whose courts the Lakin firm used to orchestrate this marathon courthouse drama? Are we any safer? Is the world any fairer?

In the settlement, First Health, admits no guilt. The plaintiff's lawyers, in effect, agree with that. So at the end of five years of legal wrangling, the record says the company did nothing wrong.

However, an already overburdened Judge Stack still is hearing arguments in the case. On Tuesday, he refereed a spat between the Lakins and "objector" lawyer Richard Burke, the former firm partner-turned-archnemesis who now wants a piece of the action.

According to the pending settlement, the lawyers will get $650,000 for bringing this class action nightmare of a case that has clogged the courts for five years running. The alleged aggrieved parties get little or nothing. A charity not involved in the case gets more than a million.

That sounds anything but fair to us.

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