AT&T class wins $21.20 in phone line credits; lawyers get $7 million in fees

By Steve Korris | Nov 20, 2009


Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack has ordered telephone company AT&T to pay $21,671,857 for mistakes Illinois Bell made eight years ago in distributing $90 million in refunds to business customers.

On Nov. 10, Stack placed a price tag on a February order holding AT&T liable for misinterpretation of state law that prescribed the refunds.

He ruled that 680,683 business customers deserved refunds but didn't get them.

He ordered AT&T to grant class members credits of $21.20 per line.

He awarded a third of the judgment, more than $7 million, to class action lawyers Terrence O'Leary of Granite City, Glenn Bradford of Edwardsville, Thomas Londrigan and Timothy Londrigan of Springfield, and Mary Leahy of Springfield.

Stack wrote that they expended more than 3,000 hours on the case.

That would mean they made about $2,400 an hour.

Subtracting their fee leaves less than $15 million for customers, and Stack conceded that complete payment "may be impossible and/or impracticable."

He ruled that Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation should receive all funds that remain after AT&T has issued credits to current customers.

He advised AT&T owners that if they appeal, they must post bond.

He reserved for future determination the issue of attorney's fees in the event of appeal.

He warned AT&T not to communicate with class members, directly or indirectly, without his approval.

He denied a petition of plaintiffs for prejudgment interest, however, finding that Illinois Bell didn't willfully violate the law but only misinterpreted it.

For the same reason he denied punitive damages in February.

Legislators enacted the refund in 2001, to resolve complaints that Illinois Bell charged competitive rates on noncompetitive lines.

Ameritech and Illinois Bell cooperated with commission staff in distributing refunds, and legislators never complained that the refunds didn't comply with the law.

In Madison County Circuit Court, Big Sky Excavating sued in 2003 and moved to represent a class of customers who should have received refunds.

Circuit Judge Philip Kardis declared the refund law unconstitutional, finding it so openly beneficial to Illinois Bell that it constituted state support of private business.

The Illinois Supreme Court reversed Kardis and sent the case back to Madison County, where Stack took charge upon Kardis's retirement.

John Papa of Granite City and the firm of Mayer Brown in Chicago represent AT&T.

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