Lest you think the coast is clearing in Madison County, we direct your attention to $660,000 in legal fees.

The money is coming courtesy of Citibank, sued here three years ago by the Lakin Law Firm and its class action mule plaintiff Carmelita McLaughlin, 48, of Alton.

The issue: document freight fees. Employing their infinite market making wisdom, the Lakins-- Tom and Brad, in this case-- asserted the bank was charging "too much" to deliver mortgage documents. The actual number was $27. We're not sure what it should have been.

Nevertheless, thanks to a little Third Circuit-style comsumer justice, home buyers who paid it-- if they hear about it and fill out the requisite form-- stand to get a $30 refund.

McLaughlin herself will get $750-- just in time for the holidays. And the Lakin Firm will pocket $660,000.

What-- did you think they paid for the private jet and the fancy homes with raw good looks or subpoena power?

The sad truth is that the truth here is far worse. Or call it far more frivolous and lucrative for the Lakins, who filed a total of 26 such "mortgage fee" class actions in Madison County from 2002-04. That's including the one over fax fees that made Jay Leno, in which lawyer Emert Wyss accidentially sued himself.

Indeed, these are the cases that make Madison County a laughingstock; that drive those of you who know a hard day's work to hit the ceiling; that drive up home lending costs for the rest of us.

But it doesn't have to be this way.

This nonsense can easily be stopped. All it requires is a little courthouse bravery.

Judge Lola Maddox showed some when she threw out the Lakin-Wyss fax fee case in September. Judge Don Weber did his job the same, tossing a copycat Lakin fax lawsuit back in May.

But Judge Andy Matoesian couldn't muster the strength, apparently.

Aim your ire at the Lakins and Ms. McLaughlin, laughing now all the way to the bank, and they surely deserve it. They consipired to use a well-intentioned court remedy-- the class action lawsuit-- to instead personally enrich themselves.

But it's Matoesian who deserves the real blame.

He let this case proceed as if setting delivery prices were actually within his purview as a circuit court judge. Rather than dismiss the case in short order, he played enabler to the Lakins, pretending that their put-up plaintiff and her manufactured controversy were actually a legitimate use of our civil justice system.

The net result: $660,000 more for the Lakins. Hmmm... think these judicial elections matter to them?

Something to remember as you plot your ballot for Nov. 7.

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