MOUNT VERNON – Chicago lawyer Phil Bock can’t collect $1,214,831.50 on a Lakin Law Firm class action to which he contributed nothing but a useful plaintiff, Fifth District appellate judges ruled on March 17.
They ruled that St. Clair County Circuit Judge Andrew Gleeson correctly resolved a dispute between Bock and Paul Weiss of Chicago by awarding Bock $50,000.
Bock, Weiss’s firm, and the Lakins had split fees three ways in other class actions, but Bock failed to show that the arrangement fit the case at hand.
He didn’t help his cause by omitting the Lakins from his suit.
Justice Stephen Spomer wrote, “The Lakin Law Firm is the third entity allegedly entitled to a one third share of the fees.”
“However, Bock has not sought fees from the Lakin Law Firm, and the Lakin Law Firm is not a party to this appeal,” Spomer wrote.
Weiss’s lawyer, Kevin Hoerner of Belleville, had argued that if Bock was correct about belonging to a joint venture, the Lakins owed him as much as Weiss did.
“Rather, Bock claims the entire amount of its supposed joint venture share from Freed & Weiss and nothing from Lakin who presumably was paid one half of the fees owed to Bock,” Hoerner wrote in 2011.
“Bock knows that Lakin will not support his claim of a joint venture, and that in fact no joint venture ever existed. Bock’s failure to make any claim against the Lakin firm is a reasonable inference that no joint venture existed, and this court may draw that inference.”
Bock, Weiss and the Lakins filed many class actions together, but Weiss and the Lakins acted without Bock when they sued America Online in St. Clair County, in 2003.
Their client, Dawn O’Leary, claimed America Online billed for internet services she hadn’t requested.
In 2004, Bock, Weiss and the Lakins sued America Online in Madison County.
Their client, Rosa White, claimed America Online charged her for “credit alert.”
Bock was responsible for securing White as client.
According to Hoerner’s brief, firms defending America Online approached the group about a national settlement of billing disputes through the O’Leary action.
All parties signed a settlement in 2005, but a federal multi district judge in California signed an injunction against it.
Freed and the Lakins opened negotiations with plaintiff lawyers in the California court, according to Hoerner, and a new settlement resulted in six months.
The agreement provided $4.5 million in fees for O’Leary’s lawyers and $3.5 million for lawyers in the California court.
From $4.5 million, Weiss and the Lakins calculated a net of $3,644,494.40.
Weiss delivered a $50,000 check to Bock, who didn’t cash it.
Gleeson held two hearings in 2010, and asked for further briefs.
For Bock, Bob Sprague of Belleville cited five cases where they split fees three ways.
“Absent an express agreement as to fee division cooperating attorneys are presumed to intend an equal division,” Sprague wrote. “The Rosa White and other cases had to be joined into the O’Leary case or AOL would not settle.
“The attorneys undertook to jointly pursue the case against AOL when they joined the O’Leary and White cases together.”
He wrote that Weiss planned to cheat Bock from the beginning.
For Weiss, Hoerner wrote that Bock admitted that he had no expenses, reviewed no documents, and didn’t communicate with counsel for America Online.
He wrote that in cases where Bock received a third, he was in the cases from the beginning and he had expenses and effort.
Gleeson first ruled that Weiss didn’t owe Bock anything, but later he ruled that Weiss owed Bock $50,000.
Bock appealed, and Weiss filed a cross appeal against the $50,000 award.
Spomer and Justices Thomas Welch and Melissa Chapman found ample evidence to support Gleeson’s conclusion that no joint venture existed.
“With regard to Bock’s contention that the trial court’s decision was based on legal error, we first note that this claim is not well articulated in Bock’s briefs,” Spomer wrote.
The Justices held that Weiss must pay Bock $50,000, because he told him he would and he had in fact presented the check.