Cook County suits involve alleged takeover at Freed and Weiss

By Sarah Zavala | Mar 1, 2012

CHICAGO - An ongoing dispute between named partners at Freed & Weiss LLC has led to a couple of new lawsuits involving an alleged take over scheme.

George K. Lang, a former partner at the Chicago-based Freed & Weiss LLC, filed a complaint Tuesday against Paul M. Weiss over allegations of breach of fiduciary duties, breach of contract and unjust enrichment.

According to the complaint, Weiss fired Lang after he refused to assist him in a scheme to take over Freed & Weiss LLC and turn the firm into his own.

Lang also claims Weiss was diverting the firm's assets and using them for his own ends, including personal expenses and defense costs related to sexual harassment charges filed against him by the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.

Freed and Weiss had partnered with the former Lakin Law Firm, pursuing major class actions in Madison County. They split in 2006, which resulted in suits and counter suits over fees that eventually settled in 2008.

Lang is not the only one to bring about a case over Weiss's alleged actions. Eric D. Freed, co-manager of Freed & Weiss LLC, filed a complaint late last week against JPMorgan Chase & Co., for allegedly aiding and abetting Weiss in his attempts to transfer the firm's money into accounts Freed could not access.

What sparked these two lawsuits was Weiss's alleged attempts to exclude Freed and take over the firm - the main contention in the lawsuits.

According to Lang's complaint, Weiss even changed the name of the firm, removing Freed from the firm's website and changing the locks on the firm's doors to prevent him from physically accessing computer systems and emails in the building.

In May 2011, Lang was asked to take a 50 percent pay cut because of expense concerns, the complaint says.

Lang agreed, according to the complaint, because he was told he would receive significantly greater compensation in the future - $250,000.

On Jan. 3, Weiss asked Lang if he was aware of documents that "disclosed his desire to exclude Freed from the firm based of a trumped-up theory that Freed has 'voluntarily resigned,'" according to the complaint.

Lang was also asked if Freed's attorneys contacted him, the complaint states.

Weiss fired Lang when he responded yes to both questions and added that he spoke with his own counsel, the complaint states.

Lang is seeking his "back end" compensation of $250,000 and 10 percent in referral fees for seven cases he says he brought to the firm, which totals in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, plus compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney's fees and costs, the complaint states.

Last week, Freed sued Chase Bank for allegedly assisting Weiss in his attempt to take the firm's funds out of his reach.

According to Freed's complaint, Freed is entitled to 53 percent of the Freed & Weiss LLC profits and before Weiss "voluntarily terminated" him from the firm, was entitled to 47 percent of the profit.

In December 2008, Weiss opened a new bank account for the firm by falsely representing that he was the only manager of Freed & Weiss LLC, the suit states. Jamie Saltzman, Weiss's wife and fellow attorney for the firm executed a signature card for the account.

In October 2009, an additional bank account for the firm was opened, this time designating Saltzman as the manager of the firm.

According to the complaint and the Certificate of Limited Liability Company, Weiss is not authorized to disburse funds on behalf of the firm in the forms of wire dispersal and check writing.

"Freed's signature is required to add or delete authorized individuals designated to sign checks, drafts, orders or authorizations or behalf of LLC," the Certificate of LLC and complaint states. "Without Freed's signature neither Weiss nor Saltzman has authority to execute the Signature Card."

For both accounts, Chase Bank failed to diligently ask or look for the proper documentation of Weiss's management role, therefore violated and recklessly disregarded the "know your customer rule," the complaint states.

The partnership agreement for Freed & Weiss LLC was publicly available online at the time both accounts were opened, the complaint states.

"Only the simplest inquiries would have revealed the falsity of said statements," the complaint said.

In March 2011, Weiss moved almost all of the firm's funds from its official bank account into the two Chase Bank accounts that he and Saltzman had previously opened.

After seeking advice from his counsel, Freed demanded that Chase Bank freeze all accounts holding the firms funds.

A Chase Bank employee informed Weiss and Saltzman that the accounts would be frozen and aided and abetted them in the removal of $750,000 of the firm's funds from the bank, according to the complaint.

Freed is seeking at least $1 million, plus punitive damages, the complaint said.

Freed is represented by Daniel J. Voelker, Jeffrey L. Dorman and Tricia L. Putzy of Voelker Litigation Group LLC.

Lang is represented by Hillard M. Sterling and Erin Rogozinski of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP.

Counsel for both Lang and Freed did not respond to calls seeking comment.

Both cases were filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County:

George K. Lang v. Paul M. Weiss, case number 12CH05863.

And Eric D. Freed v. JPMorgan Chase & Co., case number 2012-L-002018.

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