Battle between ABHI and Cueto shifts to Appellate Court

Steve Korris Aug. 31, 2009, 9:55am

MOUNT VERNON - St. Clair County Associate Judge Andrew Gleeson, having twice slashed a $98 million judgment he entered for Amiel Cueto last summer, now questions his jurisdiction to have left intact the remaining $7.4 million award.

However, the vehicle for receiving an Appellate Court ruling on the jurisdictional issue may be different than the interlocutory appeal that Gleeson invited.

On July 23 Gleeson certified the question of personal jurisdiction over American Bank Holdings, Inc. of Maryland to the Fifth District appeals court in Mount Vernon.

Citing Supreme Court Rule 308, Gleeson also certified an issue regarding whether ABHI waived its right to contest personal jurisdiction.

Gleeson acted on his own, without anyone asking him to certify the questions.

He wrote that he was troubled about the jurisdictional issue.

Gleeson stayed further proceedings in his court until the Appellate Court has had an opportunity to address the jurisdictional questions.

Meanwhile, on the same day that Gleeson purported to certify issues for interlocutory appeal, ABHI filed a notice of appeal from Gleeson's previous rulings on its petition to set aside the default judgments and related findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Unlike the Rule 308 interlocutory appeal invited by Judge Gleeson, the Rule 304(b)(3) appeal filed by ABHI does not require either a petition for leave to appeal to the Appellate Court or an order by the Appellate Court accepting the appeal. ABHI's appeal expressly includes the personal jurisdiction issue included in Gleeson's order certifying issues for interlocutory appeal.

There is no indication in any court file that Gleeson was aware of ABHI's notice of appeal when he entered his order on July 23, or that ABHI was aware of Gleeson's order when it filed its notice of appeal that same day.

These developments came in a case filed by Cueto in June 2008 against ABHI, Wells Fargo Bank, United Capital Lending and others.

Cueto claimed that he arranged to sell 32 acres fronting the Mississippi River to Lester Petty and Associates for $8 million.

He claimed that United Capital Lending and its agent, Kevin Gleaton, committed to loan $8 million to Petty's group.

Petty delivered a check in 2005 but it bounced, according to the complaint.

Cueto wrote that he accepted a $9 million offer from Desmond Williams but Williams never delivered the payment.

Cueto wrote that he borrowed $1.6 million against the property but Wells Fargo called the loan and in 2007 he had to sell the property for $1.6 million.

He sought the difference between the $9 million offer and the $1.6 million sale.

He filed it "pro se," without a lawyer.

He lost his Illinois law license after serving time in prison for obstructing justice and conspiring to defraud the United States.

The case was first assigned to Circuit Judge Robert LeChien, according to the court record.

Nothing in the file explains how Gleeson, an unelected associate judge, came to preside over the case.

ABHI did not answer the complaint, and Gleeson entered default judgment against the bank six weeks after Cueto filed suit.

Gleeson fixed compensatory damages at $7,390,855.10 and multiplied that sum by nine for a punitive damage award of $66,517,695.90.

He ordered the creation of an Amiel Cueto St. Clair County Trust through which the punitive damages award would be administered by Cueto for the use or benefit of any local government entity or public school located at least in part in St. Clair County.

Gleeson also awarded $24,636,183.65 in attorney fees. His "Judgement Order" on attorney fees stated that "Amiel Cueto's lawyer in this case is Grey R. Chatham."

No attorney had filed an appearance on Cueto's behalf when the attorney fee award was entered. Two days later, Chatham, the brother in law of St. Clair County Chief Judge John Baricevic, entered an appearance on behalf of Cueto.

This February, Cueto filed suit in Maryland, home of ABHI, to collect the judgment.

That prompted ABHI to respond at last in St. Clair County with a petition to vacate the judgment.

At a hearing on May 12, Dan Ball of Bryan Cave in St. Louis argued for ABHI that the judgment was void because the court lacked personal jurisdiction.

"There is not a single allegation that American Bank Holdings did anything," Ball said.

Gleeson asked him, "Is it your argument that a complaint and service on you has no effect on you if you don't believe personal jurisdiction exists?"

"You can just go on your merry way and any default judgment that would be entered at that point is null and void?" Gleeson said.

Ball said, "There certainly wasn't an intent to just ignore and go on our merry way."

When Cueto's turn came, he said Chatham would assist him because he anticipated the bank would cross examine him and he wanted the same opportunity.

"This is a straightforward long arm statute jurisdiction," Cueto said.

"This defendant as alleged in my complaint committed tortious conduct in this state in that this defendant made a representation to me directly or through its agents as alleged in the complaint.

"I relied on it to my detriment and suffered the loss of seven million three hundred thousand dollars."

On June 25 Gleeson denied the petition to vacate the judgment but reduced the punitive award to $21 million.

He vacated Chatham's $25 million fee.

On the same date local lawyer William Niehoff issued a citation on Cueto's behalf to discover the bank's assets.

Niehoff also served notice to produce ABHI President Plack at a hearing.

On July 13 Ball withdrew as counsel to the bank.

In Maryland on July 14, Montgomery County Associate Circuit Judge Joseph Dugan granted a temporary restraining order against Cueto.

"ABHI has demonstrated that there is a substantial likelihood that it will prevail on the merits," Dugan wrote.

A temporary order would serve the public interest, he wrote.

On July 15, Gary Feinerman of Sidley Austin in Chicago replaced Ball and moved to quash Niehoff's citation to discover assets.

Gleeson heard the motion on July 16, with Chatham and Niehoff in court.

Feinerman told Gleeson, "I'm a little perplexed. Mr. Cueto says that he is pro se yet he has two attorneys with him."

He said Cueto was either pro se or represented.

"You can't be both," Feinerman said.

Cueto said, "Why not? Why not? Is there some law that says that or is that the way they do it in other venues?"

Gleeson said, "In the underlying litigation Mr. Cueto is pro se. This is obviously a supplemental proceeding. This is a post judgment proceeding."

Feinerman persisted and Gleeson told Cueto that attorneys needed to know if he was represented or pro se.

Cueto said, "Then I want to remain pro se."

In that case, Feinerman said, Niehoff's pleadings were nullities.

Cueto said, "Why are they nullities? Is there some law that says that?"

Gleeson agreed with Feinerman and granted the motion to quash the citation.

Cueto said, "Everything this bank has filed is a fraud and a perjury. Everything they have done is a fraud and perjury."

He alleged "skullduggery in Maryland."

Gleeson said, "I'm thinking that Mr. Plack needs to be here."

On July 20 Gleeson reconsidered his decision on ABHI's petition to vacate judgment and vacated the punitive award.

That shrank the judgment to the compensatory damages claim of about $7.4 million.

On July 23 Gleeson, on his own motion, certified the jurisdictional questions to the Fifth District.

American Bank Holdings appealed on the same date on jurisdictional and other grounds.

Cueto cross appealed on July 24, seeking to reinstate the $98 million judgment.

On July 27 Plack received notice to appear in Gleeson's court on Aug. 10.

On Aug. 4 Gleeson canceled Plack's date in Belleville and wrote that all proceedings were stayed pending a decision from the appellate court.

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