Madison - St. Clair Record

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Spotlight on Simmons in NY corruption trial and in Hale v. State Farm; Sheldon Silver seeks Simmons' documents from referring physician

By The Madison County Record | Oct 27, 2015


NEW YORK CITY and EAST ST. LOUIS – Actions that Alton asbestos lawyer John Simmons took six and 12 years ago have stuck him in the spotlight of a criminal corruption trial in New York and an $8 billion corruption claim in Illinois.

In New York, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has served a subpoena for documents about Simmons in preparation for his trial, set to start on Nov. 2.

Physician Robert Taub, who received the subpoena, told the court that Silver could get the documents from federal prosecutors who already obtained them.

Taub’s lawyer, Lisa Zornberg of New York, wrote that Taub’s interaction with Simmons dated back at least to 2009.

In Illinois, a deposition in a civil suit against State Farm shows Simmons helped to start a private investigation of Supreme Court candidate Lloyd Karmeier in 2003.

That long running investigation serves as the basis for the suit, which alleges that State Farm secretly and fraudulently secured Karmeier’s election in 2004.

Simmons’s name had popped up in both cases previously, but in the background.

The government’s complaint against Silver mentioned his firm but not by name.

It alleged that Taub referred mesothelioma patients to Silver who, while serving as Speaker, had an office at the asbestos firm of Weitz and Luxenburg. It also alleged that Silver received payments from Weitz and Luxenburg without performing any work.

It further alleged that Taub later stopped referring patients to Silver and started referring them to another firm.

The complaint contained enough clues for news outlets to identify the second firm as Simmons.

Taub’s employer, Columbia University, immediately fired him.

The indictment that followed the complaint did not mention the second firm at all.

Silver moved to dismiss the indictment, pleading that he earned the money in an ethical relationship with Weitz and Luxenburg.

District Judge Valerie Caproni denied the motion and set trial.

On Oct. 15, defense lawyer Steven Molo of New York moved to compel prosecutors to tell Silver whether they expected to call Taub as a witness.

“Whatever their motivations, the prosecutors chose not to have their star witness, Dr. Robert Taub, face the grand jury," Molo wrote.

He wrote that prosecutors didn’t produce a report of any interview with Taub to the grand jury.

On Oct. 23, Zornberg moved to quash a subpoena that Silver served on Taub.

Zornberg wrote that it called for all documents relating in any way to the Simmons Hanly Conroy firm and the Simmons Mesothelioma Foundation.

She wrote that Taub interacted with the firm and the foundation at least back to 2009.

She wrote that it was unreasonable and oppressive to subpoena the documents without trying to pinpoint them or limit the requests by subject or date.

She further wrote that Silver could confirm that the government subpoenaed the Simmons entities and that Silver received copies of responsive documents.

Caproni ordered Silver and Taub to negotiate the dispute.

In the Illinois action against State Farm, last year, Simmons and other stars of the plaintiff bar burst into a case that didn’t involve them.

Simmons, former partner Jeff Cooper, Stephen Tillery, Brad Lakin, and Randy Bono moved to quash a subpoena State Farm served on investigator Doug Wojcieszak.

State Farm sought the documents to support its argument that a statute of limitations ran out before the suit started.

State Farm lawyers suspected that plaintiff lawyers had known for a long time the facts that they presented as new evidence when they filed the suit.

Tillery argued that the subpoena involved documents that Wojcieszak produced for a Madison County class action he led against Philip Morris.

Prior to the filing of the motion, Simmons, Cooper, Lakin and Bono had never publicly associated themselves with the Philip Morris case.

The Tillery group filed a privilege log with 413 entries that they classified as work product or First Amendment expression.

State Farm protested that Wojcieszak did not object to the subpoena and the group could not assert objections on his behalf.

The dispute persisted but not as public record, for U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Williams received letter briefs that neither side filed with the court clerk.

This year, at the request of the Record, Williams directed both sides to place the briefs on the public docket.

He gave them several weeks to make necessary redactions.

Meanwhile he granted privilege for some items on the log and denied it to others.

The briefs poured into the docket on Oct. 16, with dozens of exhibits.

State Farm filed a deposition it took from Wojcieszak in 2011, showing he nearly went to work for tort reformer Ed Murnane of Illinois Civil Justice League.

“I decided to go to work for Steve Tillery instead,” Wojcieszak said.

“Murnane was coming down to Southern Illinois to meet, and I actually left him a voice mail, tried to call him and say hey, I don’t want to do this.”

He said he left voice mail that he decided to go a different direction.

“I didn’t tell him what I was doing,” Wojcieszak said.

He said that after he went to work for Tillery, he had more conversations with Murnane and State Farm lawyer Bill Shepherd.

“No one knew what I was doing and I didn’t allow anybody to know what I was doing,” Wojcieszak said.

He said the work quickly shifted from the Philip Morris case to the Karmeier race.

He said he developed a victim group that was not officially Democratic.

He said Tillery and others held him at arm’s length.

“They just kind of said, you do your own thing and don’t cause a problem,” Wojcieszak said.

A State Farm lawyer asked if Tillery or the trial lawyers paid him.

“I was being paid by Tillery," Wojcieszak said. "I was being paid by Lakin’s firm and by Simmons Cooper.”

The State Farm lawyer asked if he was paid $10,000 a month.

“The original retainer was with Tillery, but as we got more into the stuff, then others came in and we were being paid a lot more than ten thousand,” Wojcieszak said.

“Myself, my partner, two full time people just doing a lot of stuff,” Wojcieszak said.

State Farm scheduled a deposition with Wojcieszak for Oct. 7, but Wojcieszak canceled it on Oct. 2.

Williams set a hearing on Thursday, Oct. 29, for Wojcieszak to show cause why State Farm should not depose him before Nov. 13.

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Organizations in this Story

Lakin Law FirmKorein TillerySimmons Hanly ConroyIllinois Supreme CourtU.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois East St. Louis