BELLEVILLE – Almost 300 plaintiffs in pollution suits have called on St. Clair County Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson to invalidate a settlement between their lawyers and Monsanto.
“Nothing is settled,” plaintiff Jacqueline Everson wrote in a Dec. 31 petition that indicates plaintiffs are seeking new lawyers.
Those who signed the petition voided settlement checks they received last fall, according to Everson.
Everson has requested an opportunity to speak at a hearing set in Gleeson’s court today at 9 a.m.
She wrote that plaintiff Tyrha Dooley started the petition drive in a social media group, “East St. Louis vs. Monsanto: The humiliation.” The group was started on Nov. 6, after Dooley received her daughter’s check and “couldn’t stop crying.”
Gleeson and former judge Vincent Lopinot found good faith in the settlement, but Fifth District appellate judges vacated their finding last April.
They found Gleeson and Lopinot didn’t read settlement documents. They found the lack of information cast doubt on the validity of the settlement.
Environmental Litigation Group of Birmingham, Ala., started the litigation in association with local lawyer Paul Schoen 10 years ago.
The Alabama group of lawyers had previously achieved a $700 million settlement with Monsanto over damage from “PCB,” polychlorinated biphenyls, in Anniston, Ala.
The group told potential clients the claims in Illinois might have greater value, and they signed up 11,256 clients including former residents all over the nation.
They sued Monsanto, which had operated south of East St. Louis since 1899, and Cerro Copper, which had operated there since 1927.
They blamed Monsanto for polychlorinated biphenyls, Cerro for dioxin.
Former chief judge John Baricevic stayed the cases pending mediation, which continued for years.
Cerro didn’t settle, but Monsanto eventually did.
In 2015, most plaintiffs received $600 participation payments from Monsanto.
Gleeson and Lopinot approved the settlement, sealed it, and found good faith.
Cerro appealed the good faith finding, because the settlement protected Monsanto from contribution in the event of a jury award against Cerro.
When the Fifth District vacated the finding, plaintiffs who expected compensation beyond a $600 participation payment started to worry.
Many made public statements critical of the settlement.
The lawyers sent plaintiffs a letter telling them they could expect further recovery because they would take Cerro to trial.
Everson spoke with Gregory Cade of Environmental Litigation Group more than once, and followed up with a letter to Schoen on May 21.
“I am compelled, by my belief in God, to write you this letter on behalf of the Monsanto PCB victims,” Everson wrote to Schoen.
She quoted a proverb, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”
She quoted the next verse, “Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it,’ when you have it with you.
“You are the plaintiffs’ advocate in the Monsanto settlement, to ensure the plaintiffs a reasonable and fair Monsanto settlement outcome separate from the Cerro case.
“To live every day as a walking time bomb, expecting to die from a deadly sickness! There is no vision for a long healthy future.
“Plaintiffs deserve some peace of mind, proof Monsanto is not getting away with murder, with a little slap on the hand.
“Toxic PCB was in our family gardens. We also ate toxic PCB.”
On May 23, Schoen wrote back, “I have no additional information to provide to you that you would not have learned in your conversations with Mr. Cade.”
By then Everson had started gathering signatures for a petition.
On June 1, the lawyers sent a letter to all who signed it.
“If Mrs. Everson is now your legal representative, please send us a document in writing and we will withdraw from your case immediately,” the lawyers wrote.
The letter stated that drafters of the Everson petition appeared to have little to no understanding of the law and definitely didn’t understand this litigation. It stated that clients were misled to believe the settlement ended their cases.
“We will take steps to prevent further damage by the people who are attempting to undermine this litigation,” the lawyers wrote.
“Adequate compensation is ensured by going to trial against the defendant determined to have the most liability, and in this case we believe that Cerro Copper due to its massive releases of dioxin into your community, is that defendant.”
Meanwhile they petitioned the Illinois Supreme Court to review the Fifth District’s opinion, and the Supreme Court denied the petition.
In October, most plaintiffs received payments in amounts less than $1,000.
Everson received $283 for exposure and $151 for property.
Instead of silencing critics, the payments added to the ranks of critics.
On Nov. 7, the lawyers released facts they had until then kept from their clients.
They wrote that the total settlement amount was $20,706,023.60, and that $9,874,739.24 was allocated to clients.
Their fees were $5,496,804.72, and expenses were $5,334,479.64 – for a total providing more to the lawyers than plaintiffs.
They wrote that results of blood testing didn’t show a significant difference between the East St. Louis community and the U.S. population.
“Since the settlement fund was based upon these results, the overall settlement was lower than we had hoped,” they wrote.
Social media group leader Dooley sent a termination letter to Schoen and Cade on Nov. 20, on behalf of 293 plaintiffs.
Dooley wrote that their misrepresentation violated their rights and caused plaintiffs to suffer great losses.
“You have violated all the laws and rules that govern and protect our settlement rights in this Monsanto settlement,” she wrote.
She wrote that they refused to tell plaintiffs how much Monsanto paid until they finalized the settlement in court.
Everson’s motion to invalidate the settlement followed on New Year’s Eve.
“Plaintiffs believe we have evidence and solid grounds for invalidating this dishonest settlement,” she wrote.
She wrote that lawyers didn’t abide by rules of professional conduct; she alleged that they concealed facts with intent to force plaintiffs to take a bad settlement through oppression, fraud, and dishonesty, and under duress. Further, she states that they suppressed the deficiency identified by the appellate court.
“Plaintiffs contacted Paul Schoen through letters and petitions after seeking settlement details by phone for years without any success,” she wrote.
“Plaintiffs gave lawyers every chance to be honest.”
She wrote that they threatened those who signed the petition asking for details.
“Plaintiffs were met with hostility and threats for being persistent in asking for settlement details after the appellate court vacated the settlement for lack of information,” she wrote.
Finally, she wrote that the testing result was not logical and physically impossible, as PCB levels in East St. Louis are 3,000 times as high as in Anniston.
Everson states that she has been exposed for 52 years, within two miles of Monsanto. She is 60 years old and says that she has been disabled since age 45.
“The appellate court and the Supreme Court ruling did not stop plaintiff’s lawyers from forcing this bad faith settlement,” she wrote.