Lakin Law Firm founder Thomas Lakin has been barred from practicing law in West Virginia for a year and the Wood River plaintiff's firm also is facing sanctions, according to an Illinois Civil Justice League report issued Monday. (See report below).
A West Virginia Appeals Court barred Lakin June 24 claiming Lakin improperly solicited another lawyer's clients.
Appeals Court Judge Larry Starcher believes the Lakin Law Firm also should have been barred from practicing law in West Virginia.
"When Governor Joe Manchin said 'West Virginia's Open for Business, I do not think he meant that out-of-state lawyers were free to come into West Virginia and attempt to steal the clients of our State lawyers while violating our Rules of Professional Conduct," Starcher wrote in a dissenting opinion July 13.
Ed Murnane, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League, indicated that Lakin's conduct in West Virginia is consistent with a pattern of "misusing" the legal system.
"We've known that it is a very aggressive law firm and at times it has conducted itself in ways that have caused eyebrows to be raised," Murnane said.
"West Virginia has been known as a friendly legal environment just as Madison County."
Following is the ICJL report in its entirety:
One of the most aggressive attorneys in America – the one credited with creating the Madison County class action phenomenon – has been barred from practicing law by a West Virginia Appeals Court for improperly soliciting another lawyer's clients. L. Thomas Lakin, founder of the Lakin Law Firm from Madison County, has been barred from practicing law in West Virginia for one year and his firm is facing sanctions, according to documents discovered by the Illinois
Civil Justice League.
One Appellate Judge thinks Lakin got off too lightly from the ordeal,
stating in his dissent:
When Governor Joe Manchin said "West Virginia's Open for Business," I do not think he meant that out-of-state lawyers were free to come into West Virginia and attempt to steal the clients of our State lawyers while violating our Rules of Professional Conduct. […] I concur with the majority's decision to prohibit Mr. Lakin, individually, from practicing law in this State for a period of twelve months. However, I vigorously dissent to the "empty sanctions" placed upon Mr. Lakin's law firm. […] I would have placed the same sanctions on the Lakin Law Firm that this Court placed on Mr. Lakin individually.
The complaints stem from two personal injury clients represented by West Virginia attorney Menis Ketchum. The clients, who had been injured in separate accidents in 1997, were then solicited by agents and attorneys of the Lakin Law Firm.
The first client was told that Ketchum "would 'sell him out' and that [he] could get more money from the accident if he hired the Lakin Law Firm. The client also "received a telephone call from Howard Pederson, the chief investigator for the Lakin Law Firm, who allegedly attempted to solicit him as a client for the Firm."
A former Lakin client "arranged a meeting" with the second client. In that meeting, the client met with "attorneys Brad Lakin and Charles Armbruster of the Lakin Law Firm at [the clients] home." The client said "he probably told Brad Lakin and Charles Armbruster during the meeting that he was already represented by counsel." According to the court opinion, Lakin went back the clients home, but he "would not answer the door." Both clients continued to be represented by Ketchum.
Count III of the Statement of Charges states:
The foregoing actions on the part of the Lakin Law Firm, L. Thomas Lakin and the attorney members and employees of that firm reflect a pattern and practice of improper solicitation of . . . residents of the State of West Virginia, all in violation of the West Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct.
The opinion was filed on June 24, 2005, with Judge Starcher's dissent filed on July 13, 2005.
The Lakin firm is known for its aggressive -- some have described it as reckless -- activity. In 2003, Brad Lakin, son of L. Thomas Lakin and the current managing partner of the Lakin Law Firm, issued subpoenas to four civil justice reform advocates following a news conference they conducted on the steps of the Madison County Courthouse. The presidents of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Tort Reform Association, Illinois Chamber of Commerce and Illinois Civil Justice League had called for reform in the judicial system in Madison County and were presented with subpoenas by Lakin's firm immediately following. The firm withdrew the subpoenas in the face of calls for sanctions against them by several of the organizations, including the ICJL.
Former Illinois Appellate Judge Gordon Maag, who was voted off the Appellate Court last November, is a member of the Lakin Law Firm.