When business is too good for some lawyers, it's bad for us

The Madison County Record Jun. 26, 2010, 12:49pm

One has to wonder if it's worth pursuing a lawsuit for seven years to win a $30 judgment.

Surprisingly enough, such a minimal return is not uncommon for members of some class action suits. In fact, a case now concluding in Madison County, after nearly seven tedious years, will "enrich" all but a handful of privileged class representatives by just that paltry amount.

This week, Circuit Judge David Hylla will hear arguments in favor of final approval of a settlement between lead plaintiff Todd Morgan and Countrywide Home Loans LLC. As the representative of a class of mortgage holders allegedly overcharged for closing costs, Morgan will receive $10,000 if Judge Hylla approves the settlement. The ordinary members of the class--the overwhelming majority--will reap $30 each for their participation in the suit. That sure will help pay the mortgage.

Plaintiffs attorney Brad Lakin and two colleagues, however, hope to secure $100,000 in legal fees. Seeing as how they are the only ones to realize a significant gain, it's hard not to conclude who the real beneficiaries are in this seven-year, courthouse tragi-comedy.

Charles Dickens observed in his 1853 novel Bleak House, "The one great principle of the English law is to make business for itself."

That would seem to be the guiding principle of some in the Madison County courthouse. What works well for Lakin and lawyers like him, can take a heavy toll on the taxpayers who support our judicial system. And it's the citizens who suffer most from an unfriendly business climate that discourages investment in our community and the jobs those investments create.

The self-serving practices that enriches some plaintiffs lawyers can impoverish the rest of us. America's most famous backwoods lawyer and Illinois native son Abraham Lincoln warned against it more than 150 years ago.

"Never stir up litigation," Honest Abe advised. "A worse man can scarcely be found than one who does this."

Unfortunately, Madison County seems to have an abundance of such men – and we tolerate them to our detriment.

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