The intimidators

By The Madison County Record | Jan 23, 2005

Bradley Lakin doesn’t look so tough.

But armed with a law degree, big firm backing, and a court’s favor, Lakin thinks he’s the Terminator.

We’re reminded of Lakin’s most famous tough guy act this week, as the Madison County Circuit Court revisits Phillips et. al v. Ford Motor Company, a lawsuit he filed six years ago over alleged flaking auto paint.

A class action circus in itself, the Ford case became truly three-ring in June 2003, after Lakin personally hand-delivered subpoenas to the leaders of four pro-tort reform groups who were holding a press conference on the Madison County Courthouse steps.

The subpoenas called upon the men to attend a deposition at Lakin Law Firm offices in Wood River where they would kindly provide their donor and member lists.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Lakin said that he issued the subpoenas because the groups’ “anti lawsuit rhetoric could affect his class action case against Ford.”

Apparently, Lakin missed the day they taught the First Amendment at law school.

Nevertheless, we’ll exercise ours on the subject, revisiting the episode for what it says about the attorney arrogance that fuels a growing distrust of our legal system.

As officers of the court, lawyers like Lakin do have the power to issue subpoenas on their own, without a judge’s explicit approval. But with such power comes a responsibility, as a subpoena commands compliance-- or else.

That ‘or else’ is what best explains Brad Lakin’s bouts of boldness, as in—- give the attorney what he wants ‘or else’ he’ll sic the power of government on you.

It’s easy to be a tough guy when one has unchallenged government power—- fronted by friendly Madison County judges—- on their side.

So when ‘tort reformers’ came to town to decry class action lawsuits, Lakin didn't try to rebut their arguments. Rather, he turned to our government for help.

Lakin eventually dropped his demands and the issue faded away. It shouldn’t have.

Using a subpoena so blatantly as a personal tool of intimidation against one’s enemies is a major abuse of power.

When paid public officials abuse their positions, we call it corruption and they lose their jobs or go to jail. But when a lawyer abuses his position to retaliate against another, we call it their right.

Madison County’s judiciary should make it clear now as it should have then-- lawyers don't have super privileges that give them special powers to willy-nilly threaten anyone they don't like.

If bully attorneys like Brad Lakin want to pick a fight, they should do it standing alone. The strength and force of our justice system doesn't belong to them, but to all of us.

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