Former clients of Hamel attorney Tom Burkart have filed a lawsuit against the circuit judge candidate in an attempt to recover proceeds from a jury verdict they won more than a decade ago.
Robert and Elizabeth Wilson of Missouri filed a petition late last month in Madison County Circuit Court seeking relief from vacated orders in connection to a $30,000 jury verdict awarded to them in 2000.
The Wilsons claim that Burkart represented them in a case that resulted in the jury verdict and that he held onto and then improperly withdrew part of the proceeds from an account at the Bank of Edwardsville.
The couple's petition, which they filed pro se, stems from a jury verdict they won in 2000 on one count alleged in their 1998 real estate-related case, Wilson v. Lauschke.
After the circuit court dismissed the last count in the case in 2003, the Wilsons assert in their petition that the defendants offered up the jury verdict, as well as its interest and taxable costs.
Burkart, however, didn't respond to the offer, saying that interest was running "at a heck of a rate," the petition states.
The Wilsons claim he took immediate measures to appeal the matter again and told them "their fear of the meter running was misplaced," attorneys' fees would get awarded and the judge would "fix the wrongful compromise of the jury."
According to the petition, Burkart lost the appeal and the judgment, which noted that attorneys' fees didn't need to be considered, in March 2005.
Two months later and after collecting the $30,000 jury verdict, the Wilsons state in their petition that Burkart filed a motion to enforce and adjudicate an attorneys' lien for $35,806.85.
That amount, according to the petition, equaled about 130 percent of the verdict and did not include $2,830 they paid him in March 2000.
The Wilsons note in their petition that Burkart based his lien on 296 hours he worked on the dismissed count and the hours spent on the unsuccessful contingent appeal, as well as the time it took his secretary to send letters to jurors regarding his services and the time he spent accepting a Christmas gift they dropped off for him.
In June 2005, the couple asserts, the circuit court allowed Burkart to deposit the money into his law office account. It was later moved into account under Robert Wilson's social security number, according to the petition.
Nearly three years later, the Wilsons assert in their petition that the circuit court found Burkart had not perfected a statutory lien, but allowed an equitable lien of $20,806.85 plus the $2,830 that they paid in 2000.
The Wilsons in May 2008 moved for the release of half of their proceeds as they had no plans to appeal the matter.
Burkart, however, objected, telling the Wilsons he planned to appeal the circuit court's equitable lien because the appellate court might agree with him that he's entitled to all of the money, the petition states.
That same month, Burkart appealed his lien in Wilson v. Lauschke and appealed to the circuit court on its denial of his second request for sanctions in a complaint the Wilsons brought against him in 2005.
The Fifth District Appellate Court affirmed summary judgment in Wilson v. Burkart, pointing to the lower court's 2008 order that noted there were "no open issues of fraud or misconduct."
In November 2010, the Wilsons assert that Burkart presented a court order and withdrew a $20,806.85 check made out to his law office from the bank account holding the couple's jury verdict. He deposited that check into a bank account at a Hamel bank the same day, the petition states.
In February of this year, the Fifth District Appellate Court ruled in an unpublished opinion that a Madison County Circuit Court order awarding Burkart an attorney equitable lien was void because the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to hear his motion.
Since all of Burkart's motions seeking to sanction them have been denied, the Wilsons claim the only thing left to do is assess their petition under Section 20-1401 of the Civil Code of Procedure and provide them with relief.
In their petition, the Wilsons ask the court to order Burkart to return the $23,719 allowed in a 2008 order, as well as lost interest and fees in the amount of about $82.
Pointing to the dissenting opinion in a 2005 appellate court ruling, the Wilsons claim Burkart did not raise his matter over the lien in a procedurally proper way. They contend his demand for a separate appeal over the lien in Wilson v. Lauschke was without reasonable cause.
In seeking recovery of their jury verdict, the Wilsons state in their petition that "no person should be faced with seven more years of litigation to recover their constitutionally protected jury verdict when, as here, the attorney held the money in his hands first."
The couple's petition also seeks their re-taxed costs for the last appeal and recovery of the $11,832 in taxable costs that the Lauschke defendants had offered earlier and Burkart allegedly failed to collect.
"Consideration for reasonable recovery of those lost costs are warranted; particularly as the new evidence, now is clear that respondent did not collect the costs because the interest was running 'at a heck of a rate' only then to turn around and claim that interest as 'gross proceeds' in his imperfect lien," the Wilsons state in their petition.
The couple contends that Burkart's failure to properly bring his matter over the lien has resulted in seven "arduous" years of litigation that has included more than 160 filings, 48 orders, 18 hearings, three "scathing" attempts to sanction them and a journey through all three court systems in the state, as well as the nation's high court.
Burkart had been contacted for comment on the lawsuit, but he declined to do so.
The citation for the Wilsons' petition is 12-L-1152.