Stack asks for shortcut to Illinois Bell's production of 600,000 documents

Steve Korris Jul. 15, 2009, 11:49am

Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack, having ruled that Illinois Bell has owed money to some business customers since 2001, hopes the telephone company can find an easy way to count the cost and spread it around.

At a June 29 hearing Stack postponed production of 600,000 customer bills and gave Illinois Bell 30 days "to see if there is a way to short cut the process."

He said it might save months in the long run.

"Quite frankly I'm pretty hopeful that that can be accomplished," he said.

Stack ruled in February that some customers received more than they deserved from a $90 million refund and some customers deserved refunds but didn't get them.

He didn't assess damages or identify customers who qualified for them.

Springfield lawyer Tim Londrigan sued Illinois Bell in 2003 on behalf of Big Sky Excavating.

According to Londrigan, Illinois Bell failed to follow state law that apparently settled claims of unfair competition before the Illinois Commerce Commission.

Former Circuit Judge Philip Kardis certified the suit as a class action and found the refund law so beneficial to Illinois Bell that it violated the constitution.

The Illinois Supreme Court reversed Kardis on constitutional grounds but left the class action intact.

Kardis retired and Stack took the case.

At the June 29 hearing Londrigan told Stack that Illinois Bell sought an offset of the $90 million for partial compliance with the law.

"They should be given credit for that to a degree and I understand that's what we are attempting to discover," Londrigan said.

He said he tried to obtain billing records, and Stack asked how many.

Londrigan said probably six million pages.

He said Illinois Bell's figures showed about $59 million in appropriate refunds, leaving it about $31 million short of compliance.

He said it was the court's function to determine evidence of partial compliance.

He said, "The best evidence would be the actual bills."

Stack said it seemed burdensome and asked if he could come up with anything else.

Londrigan said it would take Illinois Bell eight to 17 weeks to supply the statements.

He said it would take an accounting firm a long time to go through them.

"We really can't rely upon defendant to give us what they think is a statistical sample," he said.

Stack asked if he could hire a firm for a statistical analysis.

Londrigan said analysis of a sample can't begin without the complete report.

Stack said, "You need the six million pages just to do the statistical analysis?"

Londrigan said, "You need the six million pages in front of you and you pull out various sections of those six million pages to see if the information you extract matches up with what you expect."

For Illinois Bell, Ted Livingston divided the six million pages into 600,000 bills at an average of ten pages per bill.

Stack asked if he could pull up the page that indicated the refund.

Livingston said he would have to review the entire bill to find the page.

Stack asked if it would be on the first page.

Londrigan said it was on the second page of Big Sky's bill.

Stack said, "That's a lot of time and work for everybody."

He said, "It seems like it could somehow be alleviated."

When Londrigan finished, Livingston disputed his reference to partial compliance.

"There has been total compliance even if the statute is construed as your honor has ruled," Livingston said

Stack said he understood but Londrigan said, "This is news to me."

Londrigan said, "The court has ruled they have not complied with the statute."

He said they owed $31 million with eight years interest at five percent plus attorney fees.

Livingston said that even under Londrigan's theory, the class would receive $21 to $22 million.

Londrigan said, "According to his formula, the class that we represent should not receive the entire 31 million. Yes we should."

He said, "We are the only litigants before the court."

Livingston said Debra Aron of Economic Consulting Group would prepare a report in a few weeks laying out her opinion on an appropriate remedy.

Stack asked Livingston if he could produce the document that went to the commerce commission on compliance with the law.

Livingston said he could.

Stack said, "It's either going to be a refund or it's going to be a notice to everybody to file their application which is the way it's normally done in a class action case."

Londrigan said, "They can't do a refund, judge, because we don't know if their clients today are the same clients they had in 2001."

Stack proposed giving Livingston two or three weeks to find a way
to determine a single page as opposed to entire bills.

Londrigan said that would reduce the loss of forest.

Livingston said, "We are not going to burn a forest. We are going to burn a PDF."

Stack gave him 30 days to find a short cut and set a hearing for Aug. 14.

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