Madison - St. Clair Record

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

This is consumer protection

By The Madison County Record | Mar 23, 2008

It pays to be a class action pawn, but it's not a big payday and it takes years of waiting.

Just ask Paul and Ladonna Wratchford, who will pocket $5,000 for putting their names on a recently-settled but years-ago filed Lakin Law Firm opus.

That's $4,990 more than the "aggrieved" borrowers, who will get a whopping $10 if they fill out a form and mail it to the defendant, Accredited Home Lenders.

Call it civil justice, Madison County-style.

At issue was a $20.90 "courier fee" the Wratchfords paid their old lender as they refinanced their Wood River home. The Lakins' legal theory: the fee was illegal because it was too high.

Employing the same "too high" theme, the Wratchfords sued their new lender, American Home Loans, simultaneously. That lawsuit alleged that a $50 fee the company charged to see whether the borrowers were credit-worthy was similarly, wrongly priced.

Present at the creation of this class action grab was local legal legend Emert Wyss, best-known for becoming a Jay Leno punchline in 2005 as the lawyer who accidentally sued himself.

He made both consumer lawsuits possible, and stood to get a piece of the action.

A heavy feeder of mortgage-related class action lawsuit possibilities to the Lakins, Wyss owned the title company handling the Wratchfords' transaction. In a deposition, Ladonna Wratchford explained how Wyss solicited her to play the pawn. He called with news that there was a "discrepancy" with her loan. Would she sue, he asked?

The unseemly back-and-forth in the Accredited case has been well-chronicled. The company has spent hundreds of thousands, if not millions, on attorneys fees, hoping to make the point that the company actually lost money on "courier fees."

Not that the opposition, formerly represented by the now-incarcerated Gary Peel during his class action heyday, would have any of it.

"In a large and impersonal society, class actions are often the last barricade of consumer protection," Peel trumpeted to Judge Nicholas Byron during a 2004 hearing.

Plaintiff's lawyers in this case got biggest bucks of all.

The "aggrieved" consumer gets $10 and the Wratchfords get $5,000. The lawyers will share $250,000 in fees.

They are not expected to work for free as they selflessly man the "last barricade." Right?

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