Illinois Bell wants to keep unclaimed funds in class action settlement

Amelia Flood Jan. 28, 2010, 8:43am


Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack is set to hear a defense motion asking him to modify an order that settled a seven-year old class action case for more than $21 million last November.

Defendant Illinois Bell Telephone Company (AT&T Illinois) seeks an appeal of the award and a cross appeal is in the works from the plaintiffs' side.

Stack's Nov. 10 order granted the plaintiffs in the suit summary judgment.

The suit was brought against Illinois Bell Telephone and Ameritech Corp. over improper rates the companies charged customers.

According to the case docket, Stack is to hear the motion at 10 a.m. Jan. 29.

Lead plaintiff Big Sky Excavating sued the companies in 2003 alleging that they made mistakes in distributing $90 million in refunds and favored certain customers over others. The $90 million was part of a legistlative compromise about redressing the overcharges in 2001.

The Theis Law Firm P.C. was later added as another lead plaintiff.
Madison County Circuit Judge Phillip Kardis certified the class action in 2004, finding the compromise violated Illinois' constitution.

The Illinois Supreme Court later reversed that ruling.

Stack inherited the case when Kardis retired.

In February 2009, Stack granted Big Sky's move for summary judgment. The plaintiffs' legal team had argued that the phone companies had only returned about $60 of the $90 million at issue.

Stack's Nov. 10 order found the remaining damages to total just under $22 million.

In the order, he divided the damages. The lead plaintiffs were each to receive $10,000. Stack granted the attorneys $7,223,952.00 in legal fees for more than 3,000 hours of work on the case.

The remaining refund available to class members was a total of $14,427,905.00 or $21.20 per phone line, as noted in Stack's order.
Any unpaid funds were to be deposited with the Circuit Clerk's Office to be distributed to the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation.

The plaintiffs had sought an award closer to $30 million.

In the Dec. 9, 2009 motion, Illinois Bell asks Stack to modify the Nov. 10 order to allow the company to keep the unclaimed funds.

It argues that distributing unused funds to the foundation should only be approved in limited circumstances.

"These circumstances are not present here," the motion reads. It goes on to argue that other courts have allowed the company to keep unclaimed refunds in the past.

The lead plaintiffs and class is represented by Glenn Bradford and Terrence O'Leary.

The defendants are represented by John Papa and others.

The case is Madison case number 03-L-715.

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