Judge Byron

Thomas Maag

Madison County Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron granted the Lakin Law Firm three extra weeks to preserve a class action against insurer GEICO, after the firm blamed its tardy response on the departure of Thomas Maag.

Gerald Walters of the Lakin firm wrote to Byron that, "…the attorney who was primarily responsible for handling the file left the Lakin Law Firm."

Walters wrote, "Due to the press of other business and the fact that the attorney has not been replaced, no response has been filed."

The excuse sounded lame to GEICO attorney Joshua Grabel of Phoenix.

"There has been plenty of time to prepare a response to GEICO's motion and the failure to comply with this Court's order is inexcusable," he wrote to Byron.

He wrote that the case file lists four other Lakin attorneys and three at the Chicago firm of Freed and Weiss.

He wrote that in January, a Freed and Weiss attorney said he would write the response.

In the suit, plaintiffs Myron Billups and Patricia Singleton accuse GEICO of improperly undervaluing vehicles that the insurer declared as total losses.

Byron in 2004 certified Billups and Singleton as representatives of a plaintiff class.

At a hearing last September, Byron and attorneys discussed the Illinois Supreme Court decision that threw out a class action verdict in Avery v. State Farm.

Byron gave GEICO 30 days to move to decertify. He gave plaintiffs 45 days to respond.

GEICO attorney Sheila Carmody of Phoenix moved Oct. 28 to decertify. Under Avery, she wrote, plaintiffs could not prove damages or deception.

As the deadline for response approached, the Lakin firm asked GEICO for an extension. GEICO agreed, and Byron set a Jan. 31 deadline.

The deadline passed without a response. GEICO attorney Joseph Brown of Edwardsville requested a ruling Feb. 15, arguing that plaintiffs forfeited the right to oppose the motion.

Byron set a hearing on decertification March 24.

Walters moved March 6 to extend the deadline 21 days and vacate the hearing.

Grabel opposed the motion March 9. Byron granted the motion that day. Byron gave GEICO 15 days to reply to the response of the plaintiffs.

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