Fairview Heights won't be a class action pawn.
U.S. District Judge David Herndon, once and for all, has grounded the hopes of audacious plaintiff's lawyer Richard Burke, halting his three-year campaign to nominate the St. Clair County suburb as torchbearer in a statewide municipal rebellion against the online travel industry.
Burke, a former Lakin Law Firm partner, wanted Fairview Heights to lead 50 Illinois cities in suing Orbitz and a host of other well known companies for allegedly unpaid room taxes. He further alleged the cities shared a common grievance--one best resolved via a class action lawsuit.
On March 31, the court disagreed for the last time. Judge Herndon said the cities don't share any slight in common, suggesting that if cities like Fairview Heights have tax issues with Orbitz or anyone else, they should file suit individually.
Don't hold your breath waiting for suits to be filed.
From the beginning, this case never appeared to be about retrieving tax dollars unjustly denied to Fairview Heights and other municipal taxpayers. It was more about making a noisy ruckus and forcing a dozen businesses to settle the suit with a big contingency fee payday for the lawyers driving it.
That's right, Fairview Heights citizens. Mr. Burke wasn't vigorously pursuing this case just for you. Had he prevailed, there would have been a big reward for him as well. Now all hope for that is gone, Will he be far behind?
We think those "lost" taxes weren't ever much of a deal for taxpayers. Hearing the news of the case's demise, Alderman Gil Klein breathed a sigh of good riddance, saying, "I didn't think it was justified to begin with."
Perhaps Klein and like-minded council colleagues might want to know how exactly "it" got started in the first place. They might want to clarify for taxpayers how Fairview Heights became a class action pawn in Mr. Burke's lawsuit.
Mayor Gail Mitchell and City Attorney Al Paulson, whose private law firm helped bring the lawsuit, surely will be forthcoming with answers we anxiously await.