Former lawyer Tom Lakin of Wood River claims he registered as a sex offender to defeat a civil suit accusing him of sexual offenses.

Clyde Kuehn of Belleville sprang the argument on Oct. 2, in a brief opposing summary judgment for the family of a former employee suing Lakin and his firm.

Kuehn wrote that special state prosecutor Charles Coburn made “incredibly favorable concessions” in arranging Lakin’s registration as a sex offender.

“The state would never have obtained any form of resolution with regard to the sundry sexual misconduct accusations being made against Tom Lakin by the plaintiffs without agreeing to forego any admission of guilt from Tom Lakin,” Kuehn wrote.

Madison County Circuit Judge Charles Romani approved Lakin’s registration as a sex offender at a bench trial on Oct. 25, 2011.

Lakin attended the trial on temporary release from federal prison, where he served time after pleading guilty to drug distribution charges.

Federal prosecutors had charged him with sexual offenses, but they dropped the charges as part of plea negotiations.

The civil suit had begun before the criminal investigations did.

Ed Unsell of East Alton filed it in Madison County circuit court in 2006, on behalf of the family of a former employee he identified as Jane Doe.

Chief Judge Ann Callis transferred the suit to St. Clair County, where it remained idle while Lakin served his sentence.

Now that Lakin has left federal prison in Texas and moved to a halfway house in St. Louis – where is scheduled to be released Nov. 30 - the suit has resumed in the court of Associate Judge Heinz Rudolf.

Unsell moved for summary judgment in 2011, arguing that Lakin’s registration as a sex offender constituted an admission of liability.

Kuehn then pleaded that it meant the opposite.

“The criminal proceedings in Madison County did not truly test anything about the merit of the allegations in the plaintiffs’ complaint,” he wrote.

“In fact, those Madison County criminal proceedings were specifically designed to end an unknown specter of menacing criminal liability while at the same time allowing Tom Lakin the freedom and opportunity to actually litigate in the future.

“Lakin settled his criminal risks in Madison County with his eyes wide open, completely mindful of the fact that this case was pending, had been on file for several years, and that the plaintiffs had demanded $50 million in lieu of a civil trial.”

Kuehn wrote that Lakin pleaded not guilty to criminal sexual abuse charges and denied every allegation in the civil complaint.

He wrote that the proceedings before Romani “did nothing to bar Lakin’s right to contest the accusations leveled in this civil suit.”

“Once again, for clarity’s sake, the proceedings were fashioned with that very opportunity clearly in mind,” Kuehn wrote.

He defined the proceedings before Romani as a stipulated bench trial, writing that such a trial resolves criminal liability in a manner unique to Illinois.

“Defendants in Illinois can negotiate concessions from the state in return for conceding the legal efficacy of the state’s proofs and agreeing not to put them through the crucible of a trial test,” Kuehn wrote.

“There is no admission of guilt,” he wrote. “Neither is there any true test of the evidence to which the defendant is required to stipulate in return for negotiated concessions from the state.

“That is the way some defendants who insist upon their innocence can nonetheless resolve criminal liability in return for some form of favorable treatment from the state.

“Of course, the state has to agree. That is precisely what transpired in MadisonCounty on Oct. 25, 2011.”

He wrote that what occurred had nothing to do with litigating guilt or innocence.

“Indeed, what occurred was the exact opposite of a real fight over the facts,” Kuehn wrote.

“Lakin, without admitting guilt, and having asserted his innocence by entry of a not guilty plea moments before the stipulated bench trial proceedings began, was willing to forego challenge to the state’s evidence without concern for its potential weaknesses or believability because of the state’s willingness to dispose of all potential criminal liability essentially sans punishment.”

Kuehn wrote that Coburn offered to charge the least onerous sexual offenses and recommended sentences that added no imprisonment to the federal imprisonment.

“The exceedingly generous offer actually had been made much earlier and shunned because the special prosecutor insisted upon a guilty plea to ‘satisfy his victims,’” he wrote.

“The state’s offer became too good to refuse when the prosecutor ceased to insist upon a plea of guilty and agreed to a stipulated bench trial without any admission of guilt for the offer then allowed Lakin to wipe the slate clean criminally without providing a cake walk to the civil plaintiffs who were waiting in the wings.”

Kuehn advised Rudolf to follow opinions of the Fifth District appellate court, calling it “an enlightened court of review that, by reputation, disdains routine implementation of summary judgments and believes whenever possible litigants should be afforded a full opportunity to be heard.”

“Illinois courts have been conducting stipulated bench trials for decades, since 1979 to be precise,” he wrote.

“These one sided bench trials have been an accepted procedure in lieu of guilty pleas employed to dispose of criminal matters when, for various reasons, a defendant does not want to admit guilt and wants to maintain innocence.

“One of these reasons is to dodge the use of a guilty plea in subsequent civil proceedings.  “The procedure is employed routinely in traffic court where citations are often linked to a civil lawsuit.

“Tom Lakin did not face any charges until a negotiated package resolving all criminal exposure was reached.

“The state had an arsenal of potential charges that could fit the accusations being made and several of them were Class X felonies that carried mandatory six year imprisonment, mandatory consecutive sentences on multiple counts, and early release only after serving 85 percent of whatever prison term was imposed.

“Lakin could ensure his future freedom, avoid the risk of potentially spending the rest of his life in a state penitentiary, and maintain his innocence without an admission of guilt of any kind, simply by foregoing a true test of the state’s evidence.

“All he had to do was to refrain from actually litigating his guilt or innocence.

“The incentive to stand criminal trial was completely abrogated when the special prosecutor offered the method by which to avoid negative consequences in the pending civil litigation which was an ever present concern in resolving the criminal liability.

Rudolf continued an Oct. 3 hearing until parties agree to a new hearing date.

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