After initially entering a default judgment in favor of disbarred attorney Amiel Cueto providing for compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorneys' fees totaling more than $98 million, St. Clair County Associate Judge Andrew Gleeson entered orders vacating the $24.6 million attorneys' fee award and reducing and eventually eliminating the $66.5 million punitive damages award.
Gleeson's latest order, entered on July 20, leaves intact a $7,390,855.10 compensatory damages award in favor of Cueto in his suit against American Bank Holdings, Inc. of Maryland.
In June 2008, Cueto filed a 31-count complaint against ABHI and 10 other defendants in a dispute relating to East St. Louis riverfront land owned by Cueto.
When ABHI failed to respond to Cueto's complaint, at Cueto's behest Gleeson entered three "Judgement Orders" against ABHI in July 2008.
One Judgement Order awarded "actual/compensatory damages" of $7,390,855.10; a second awarded punitive damages of $66,517,695.17; and a third awarded $24,636,183.65 in attorney's fees.
The punitive damages award was made to a trust, created by Gleeson's order, which Cueto was given "complete and absolute authority to administer." Eligible beneficiaries of the trust, to be selected by Cueto, included any units of local government or public grade schools, high schools, or colleges located in St. Clair County.
The attorney's fee award stated that it was entered "in favor of Amiel Cueto's lawyer, Grey R. Chatham." Chatham first entered an appearance in the case "of counsel" on July 25, 2008, two days after Gleeson awarded him attorney's fees.
In February 2009, ABHI filed a petition seeking to set aside the default judgments, claiming that the bank had not received proper notice before default judgment was entered and that ABHI was not subject to personal jurisdiction in Illinois.
Gleeson entered an order on June 25, 2009, declining to vacate the default judgments in their entirety, but reducing the punitive damages award to $21 million and vacating the judgment for attorney's fees.
On July 15, 2009, ABHI filed motions to quash both a citation to discover assets and a related notice to produce four individuals for examination.
Two days later, on Friday, July 17, the Belleville News-Democrat ran a story about the history of the litigation, including ABHI's pending motion to quash the citation to discover assets.
On the following Monday morning, July 20, Gleeson entered an order stating that the "court, after reviewing defendants' pleadings filed on July 15, 2009 hereby reconsiders and vacates the punitive damages award in the amount of Twenty-One Million Dollars. . . ." Gleeson's order was entered before Cueto had filed any response to ABHI's pending motions and without ABHI having requested reconsideration of the punitive damages award in its pending motions.
Cueto is the brother of St. Clair County Circuit Judge Lloyd Cueto. He was convicted in the 1990's on federal charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to defraud the United States. Although subsequently disbarred and hence prevented from representing others, he continues to represent himself in several ongoing lawsuits in Madison and St. Clair counties.
ABHI is represented by Michael Nester of Belleville and Gary Feinerman and others of Chicago.
The case is St. Clair case number 08-L-289.