Class action battle between Burke and Lakin settled at Fifth District

Steve Korris Sep. 1, 2011, 9:18am



MOUNT VERNON – Five years after Richard Burke left the Lakin Law Firm, he lost a battle he started with former employer Brad Lakin.

On Aug. 23, Fifth District appellate judges rejected his bid to overturn a class action settlement between LakinChapman law firm and First Health Group.

They affirmed retired Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack, who overruled an objection from Burke on behalf of chiropractor Kathleen Roche.

Burke helped Lakin file the suit in 2004, on behalf of chiropractor Richard Coy.

In 2007, Burke and Kevin Hoerner of Belleville filed a nearly identical suit for Roche in St. Clair County.

Both suits claimed First Health failed to provide incentives for patients with workers' compensation or auto accident claims to seek care in a preferred provider network.

First Health moved to stay the Roche action as duplicative, and St. Clair County Associate Judge Andrew Gleeson denied the motion.

Mediation of the Madison County action resulted in agreement in 2008.

First Health agreed to pay $1.25 million to nonprofit groups that provide continuing medical education.

It agreed to add language to policies and alter rules.

It agreed to pay class counsel $650,000.

Before the parties could present the agreement to Stack, Gleeson held a hearing and declared Roche and her lawyers adequate to carry on a class action.

Three days later, Stack held an emergency hearing and found Gleeson's order had no impact on his case.

He found Gleeson defined a class but didn't certify it.

Stack approved settlement documents in 2009, and First Health mailed notices to about 23,000 Illinois health care providers.

No one objected but Roche, who moved to intervene at a fairness hearing.

She claimed First Health and LakinChapman colluded to settle on less favorable terms than she would have obtained in St. Clair County.

Stack denied intervention, held the hearing, and granted final approval.

He found no support for a claim of collusion.

Roche appealed, claiming Stack improperly nullified Gleeson's order.

Justices James Donovan, Stephen Spomer and Bruce Stewart found Stack was well advised of the benefits of the settlement and the risks of litigation.

Donovan wrote, "Given that a settlement is a compromise, the court was not to judge the legal and factual questions by the criteria of a trial on the merits.

"Turning the settlement approval hearing into a trial would defeat the purposes of a compromise, such as avoiding a determination of sharply contested issues and dispensing with expensive and wasteful litigation."

Lakin fired Burke in 2006.

Chicago class action lawyer Paul Weiss and Lakin ended a seven year partnership, and Weiss teamed with Burke.

The lawyers sued each other over fees from cases they started together.

They settled the dispute but it broke out again.

Records in a Madison County case showed last year that they took it to arbitration.

The St. Clair County case is still active, and is currently assigned to Circuit Judge Stephen McGlynn.

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