Former lawyer Tom Lakin can’t deny that he committed a sex crime with a minor in 2005, St. Clair County Associate Judge Heinz Rudolf has ruled.
At a hearing on March 25, Rudolf rejected Lakin’s theory that a stipulation he signed in criminal proceedings could not stand as evidence in a civil suit.
“There is no ambiguity for me with regards to this," Rudolf said. "I’m not clouded at all.
“The facts are tough and the case is tough and the end result of what happened is tough, but for me, Mr. Lakin knew exactly what was going on.
“Let’s not forget, this isn’t someone that is pro se. This isn’t someone that is not a learned attorney that has been practicing 30 or 40 years.”
Lakin, founder of the Lakin Law Firm in Wood River, recently completed a federal prison sentence on drug distribution charges.
Since 2006, he has faced a civil suit claiming he sexually abused minors.
Edward Unsell of East Alton filed the suit in Madison County circuit court, for John Doe and other anonymous family members.
Former Madison County chief judge Ann Callis transferred the suit to St. Clair County.
Special state prosecutor Charles Coburn then obtained a series of orders staying the civil suit while investigating the allegations in it.
In 2011, Lakin and Coburn agreed that Lakin would register as a sex offender.
Madison County Circuit Judge Charles Romani, who has since retired, approved the agreement and accepted Lakin’s stipulation that he placed a minor’s penis in his mouth.
Last year, when the civil suit resumed, Unsell and Belleville lawyer Tom Keefe moved for summary judgment on their right to use the stipulation as evidence.
At Rudolf’s hearing, Keefe said, “The word stipulate, taken from the dictionary, means agree, so he agreed to the truth.”
He said Ben Allen, Lakin’s lawyer in the proceedings before Romani, recently signed an affidavit stating he didn’t mean what he said then.
Keefe said Lakin has not brought an affidavit.
“He could file an affidavit, and there would be your question of fact,” Keefe said.
“There is no affidavit. He has never denied it.”
Clyde Kuehn of Belleville, representing Lakin, argued that the stipulation was not a guilty plea.
“Since 1979, the state of Illinois has recognized this unique procedure by which an individual can say I want the concessions you’re willing to give me in the negotiations of this case, but I don’t want to plead guilty,” Kuehn said.
“People do plead guilty to crimes that they don’t commit because they are trying to avoid the specter of more serious penalties and threats of greater crimes for the same conduct. It happens every day.
“Even if you plead guilty in open court, you can’t be foreclosed from your right to litigate in a subsequent civil case the issues on that plea.
“I should be able to argue: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this case comes down to the credibility of these two young kids who have filed this suit demanding 50 million dollars.”
He said Lakin is entitled to say, “I let myself be found guilty because I wanted to put it to rest, not that I did it.”
Kuehn also said that Coburn dangled threats of numerous charges for five years.
Keefe interrupted and asked, “Where is there a record of any of this?”
Kuehn said, “If he has read Ben Allen’s affidavit, it’s right in there, judge.”
Rudolf said he read it probably 10 times.
“Why are some things in the affidavit and not actually present at the time the parties are before the court?” Rudolf asked.
Kuehn responded that it has been his experience that matters are handled "too cavalierly in Madison County, Illinois, criminal courts.”
Rudolf said he took issue with Allen’s affidavit.
Kuehn said he could disregard it.
"There was no contest of the facts, and that’s why I’m having a problem with the court’s comments that somehow the absence of all these things about the plea bargaining and so forth was not read into the record,” Kuehn said.
"This finding wasn’t based upon something fought to the death, a struggle to the death. This was a find me guilty proceeding.”
He said the prosecution made the sentence run concurrent with Lakin’s federal time, so it wouldn’t deprive him of a day of freedom.
“It was the offer he couldn’t refuse, and it was designed as a stipulated bench trial with this civil case in mind,” Kuehn said.
Keefe responded, “Mr. Lakin doesn’t have 50 million dollars. Mr. Lakin probably doesn’t have two cents for all I know.
“He stipulated to the identical language that appears in our complaint.
“If he came in here and raised his right hand and swore under oath that he didn’t do it, he would be committing perjury and then violating probation.”
Unsell said, “If a party takes a position in a prior hearing, then he cannot take an opposite position later on.”
He said the stipulation added a year to Lakin’s sentence.
Kuehn said Lakin didn’t know that when he entered into it. He said Lakin can change his position if his earlier one wasn’t fully and fairly litigated.
“Mr. Lakin was there with his hands up in the air, giving in," Kuehn said. "He wasn’t litigating.”
Keefe said, “By his own choice.”
Unsell said, “By his own choice.”
Keefe said all Lakin would have had to say was that he didn’t admit anything for purposes of the civil case.
Unsell said, “Clyde would have done that.”
Rudolf said to Kuehn, “There is no question you would have done that. Does that matter?”
Kuehn said, “When I would have listened to the stipulation being read, I would have said we are not stipulating to the truth of anything.”
Keefe said, “We would have a genuine issue of fact if Mr. Lakin filed a contrary affidavit, but he doesn’t want to commit perjury, which I think is a good step forward by him.”
Unsell told Rudolf, “You have to decide the summary judgment based upon the facts that are before you. You have no counter facts.”
Kuehn said, “Entering a guilty plea in a criminal case does not foreclose putting forward evidence at a trial on a subsequent civil case to controvert the guilty plea.”
Keefe said, “Then controvert it. Deny it.”
Rudolf closed the argument and said, “When I take a look at this particular defendant, I think there was a struggle to the finish.”
“We have someone here that is very educated, that knows the system very, very well, and yet we want to say that we just acquiesced, that there was no struggle, that this was not a difficult decision?” Rudolf said.
“I think it was given a lot of thought.”
Kuehn asked for a finding that would allow immediate appeal.
Keefe said, “Judge, this case has been stayed for years.”
Kuehn said, “The case was stayed for four years while Mr. Coburn was deciding whether he was going to do anything.”
Keefe said the case is ready for trial.
Rudolf asked for briefs on an immediate appeal.