Lakin and Millar settle fee dispute lawsuits

Steve Korris Feb. 25, 2011, 12:26am



BENTON – Brad Lakin and Jeff Millar have settled suits they filed against each other after Lakin fired Millar.

Lakin called off his action in St. Charles County, Mo., on Feb. 14, and Millar dropped his claim in federal court at Benton on Feb. 23.

Each sought judicial intervention to divide fees from cases.

Millar joined the former Lakin Law Firm in 2000, and left in 2008.

Lakin sued Millar in St. Charles County, Millar's home, in 2009.

Millar sued the LakinChapman firm in federal court, alleging he would have sued first if Lakin hadn't deceived him into thinking they would negotiate.

For Millar, Lynette Petruska of St. Louis claimed Lakin fired him in violation of a contract and withheld bonuses from class action settlements.

She alleged Lakin changed health insurance plans to escape high medical bills for Millar's son and families of other employees.

She connected Millar's departure to the guilty plea of Brad's father, Tom Lakin, for distributing cocaine to minors.

For Brad Lakin, Denean Sturino of Chicago moved to strike the account of the scandal.

Petruska answered, "Defendants cannot seriously dispute the scandal allegations because the Lakin Law Firm scandal and its consequences are matters of public record."

She wrote that the scandal was relevant because Millar performed his obligations when he had every reason to leave.

She wrote that Lakin raised Millar's salary because the firing of class action supervisor Richard Burke in a dispute over the scandal increased Millar's responsibility.

Sturino replied, "Plaintiff is attempting to provoke the court's and the public's negative opinion needlessly and without sufficient evidence or justification."

Gilbert denied Lakin's motion, finding the allegations related to the controversy even if they weren't strictly necessary to Millar's claim.

Sturino moved to dismiss the complaint, claiming Millar raised issues identical to those Lakin raised in Missouri.

In response, Petruska called the Missouri action frivolous and vexatious.

Petruska wrote that Lakin didn't want an Illinois court to hear the issues because Illinois courts and jurors were too familiar with the scandal.

Gilbert denied the motion to dismiss except on a single claim, and he gave Millar 30 days to amend that claim.

Sturino answered the complaint by claiming Millar regularly reported late to work, or didn't show up, missed deadlines, and didn't adequately account for his time.

At a hearing, Magistrate Judge Phil Frazier limited Millar's discovery on the scandal but allowed discovery on the change of the firm's name.

He ordered Lakin to produce documents and testify about all class action fees the firm received in 2009, after Millar left.

Both Millar and Lakin appealed for Gilbert to overturn Frazier's order.

For Lakin, James Davidson of Chicago asked Gilbert to keep away from the scandal.

Davidson wrote that Millar asked if Brad Lakin entered his father's home to destroy evidence of cocaine or sexual abuse.

He wrote that Millar asked Brad Lakin if he was the target of a criminal investigation or if he entered a plea deal with state or federal prosecutors.

"To be clear, Bradley Lakin was neither indicted nor charged with a crime for allegedly destroying evidence in connection with the alleged 'sex and drug scandal' regarding his father," he wrote.

Petruska filed a new complaint, claiming the firm earned more than $6 million in 15 months as a result of Millar's efforts.

She called for Lakin to reinstate Millar as a remedy for retaliation.

Sturino replied that Lakin didn't breach a contract because no contract existed.

She claimed Millar improved his situation, securing a position in the law firm of Brent Coon and Associates, from Beaumont, Texas, at a base salary of $125,000.

Her colleague Davidson opposed Millar's reinstatement, writing that his animosity toward Lakin was evident from his complaint.

"The fact that plaintiff is a co-managing attorney at a competitor class action law firm and that he would have to be restored to a public position of trust and confidence – an attorney – makes reinstatement clearly infeasible under settled law," he wrote.

Davidson also appealed Frazier's order for production of Lakin's class action fees in 2009, after Millar left.

"Plaintiff is only entitled to recover for services he actually performed and for which he was not compensated," Davidson wrote.

Gilbert denied the appeal, seeing no reason to confine Lakin's benefit to only those cases on which Millar worked.

"Plaintiff may or may not have conferred a general benefit upon defendants in a manner that reaches beyond cases specifically assigned to him in terms of work product, leadership, effectiveness, efficiency, good will, and so on," Gilbert wrote.

Gilbert also denied Millar's appeal of Frazier's limits on scandal discovery.

In January 2010, Millar moved for mediation.

Petruska's partner, John Pleban, wrote that defense counsel tentatively recommended a $60,000 settlement, to which Millar agreed.

Pleban wrote, "It is further plaintiff's understanding from defense counsel that defendant's insurance carrier agreed to this settlement proposal after plaintiff stated a willingness to settle for $60,000."

He wrote that defense counsel recommended settlement but Lakin rejected it.

He wrote that Lakin was the only impediment to settlement.

Frazier denied the mediation motion.

Last March, Millar moved to seal medical reports on his son that Lakin filed in the public record.

Frazier granted the motion, declaring Lakin's filing of the reports improper.

Gilbert tossed out Millar's retaliation claim and rejected his reinstatement.

"Millar is an attorney who holds obligations of trust and confidence to his former and any current clients, as well as his employers," he wrote.

"As a result of the fallout between the parties and the ongoing litigation, Millar's former employers no doubt lost some of this trust," he wrote.

He wrote that "if reinstated, Millar would be directly supervised by Lakin, who allegedly discriminated against him in the first place."

Gilbert closed the case in Lakin's favor last June, finding no contract existed because Millar waived enforcement of one he had signed in 2004.

Gilbert ruled that Millar didn't earn bonuses for 2008 under Illinois wage law because he left the firm on Dec. 29 of that year.

Tom Keefe of Belleville, who had joined Millar's legal team in March, moved in July to alter Gilbert's judgment.

He wrote that Millar raised genuine issues of fact.

Sturino opposed the motion, writing that Millar presented no new evidence.

Keefe answered that Millar remained employed through Dec. 31, 2008, and Gilbert committed an error by ruling otherwise.

Lakin meanwhile moved for Millar to pay a $5,792.82 bill for transcripts, photocopies and other costs.

Millar's motion to alter judgment and Lakin's motion for costs remained pending for half a year, while their lawyers negotiated.

On Feb. 3, Millar entered an appearance as fourth member of his legal team.

He represented himself at a 15 minute conference on Oct. 8 in Benton, where he and Sturino told Gilbert they would soon settle.

On Feb. 21, Millar notified Gilbert that he and Lakin agreed to withdraw their motions.

On Feb. 23, Gilbert granted withdrawal of the motions.

He didn't close the case, because he had done that last June.

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