Fight breaks out over American Family class settlement

Steve Korris Jan. 7, 2011, 12:00am



Brad Lakin and former associates Richard Burke and Paul Weiss peacefully shared a class action against American Family Insurance while suing each other over fees from other cases, and now they fight over settlement of that case.

Burke and Weiss seek to drop out, and Lakin won't turn them loose so easily.

In November, Burke filed a motion to withdraw the Chicago firm of Freed and Weiss from the plaintiff steering committee.

Burke wrote that a fundamental disagreement with LakinChapman made it impossible for Freed and Weiss to continue representing the class.

"LakinChapman has excluded Freed and Weiss from any meaningful participation in the prosecution of the litigation, and LakinChapman determines all matters regarding the direction of prosecution," he wrote.

"To the extent Freed and Weiss has been permitted to participate, counsel have disagreed concerning the fundamental matters concerning the prosecution of the litigation," he wrote.

He wrote that the firm reserved a right of recovery for services, costs and expenses.

Robert Schmieder II of LakinChapman answered, "Freed and Weiss's motive for withdrawal is the avoidance of advancing any costs on behalf of the class."

He proposed to allow withdrawal on condition that Freed and Weiss waive any right to reimbursement of costs or fees from the class or American Family.

Alternatively, he proposed that Freed and Weiss pay half of all costs incurred in the action to preserve any right to recover fees and expenses.

Madison County Circuit Judge William Mudge set a management conference Jan. 26.

In 1999, Brad Lakin and Paul Weiss agreed to pursue class actions together.

Their partnership collapsed in 2006.

Burke left the Lakin firm, opened an office in St. Louis, and associated with Weiss.

Lakin sued Weiss in Madison County, Weiss sued Lakin in Cook County, and Burke sued Lakin in federal court at East St. Louis.

Freed and Weiss withdrew from many cases, and Lakin obtained letters of discharge from plaintiffs in other cases.

The lawyers announced resolution of all disputes in 2008, but the agreement broke down and Lakin initiated private proceedings in arbitration

All the while, they stuck together on the American Family class action.

The former Lakin Law Firm filed it in Madison County in 2000, claiming the insurer improperly reduced payments on medical bills from car crashes.

Former Circuit Judge Daniel Stack certified Manuel Hernandez to lead a class action.

The Lakin firm didn't send notice to the class.

Hernandez died, but for years the firm didn't report his death to Stack.

When American Family learned he died, the insurer argued that the action died when Hernandez died because the class never received notice.

Stack disagreed, LakinChapman found living plaintiffs, and the case settled.

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