Madison - St. Clair Record

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Judge wants explanation for Tom Lakin’s ‘John Doe’ pseudonym in suit against Geico

Federal Court

By The Madison County Record | Dec 30, 2019

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Tom Lakin

EDWARDSVILLE – Tom Lakin, once the most powerful person in Madison County, tried to litigate there anonymously in November. 

He filed a John Doe suit against Geico but it didn’t pan out, because Geico removed it to federal court and placed his name in the record. 

Senior U.S. District Judge Phil Gilbert, who sent Lakin to prison in 2008, preferred not to take Geico’s word for John Doe’s identity. 

On Dec. 18, he ordered an explanation. 

“There is no indication in this case why the plaintiff is attempting to pursue this case anonymously, so the court cannot determine whether such secrecy is justified,” Gilbert wrote. 

“Litigating a federal case anonymously is generally not permitted.”  

Concealing a name impedes public access to the facts of a case, and a party must show that the harm from disclosure exceeds the public harm, he wrote. 

He further wrote that sufficient harm has been found where a plaintiff is a minor, a victim of rape or torture, a closeted homosexual, or a likely target of retaliation. 

Gilbert set a Jan. 3 deadline, and wrote that an amended complaint with the true name would be an adequate response. 

Lakin led an injury firm in Wood River and filed class actions by the dozens when Madison County judges showed a receptive attitude. 

In 2006, East Alton attorney Edward Unsell filed a Mary Doe civil suit claiming Lakin sexually abused children. 

Former U.S. attorney Courtney Cox and special state prosecutor Charles Colburn opened criminal investigations. 

In 2007, jurors in federal court indicted Lakin on sex and drug charges. 

In 2008, he pleaded guilty of maintaining a drug house, possessing cocaine with intent to distribute it, and distributing cocaine to a minor. 

He stipulated that from 1998 to 2002, he purchased cocaine, brought it into his home on Oakley Place in East Alton, used it, and distributed it. 

He stipulated that he distributed 400 to 500 grams, about a pound. 

Cox dismissed the sex charges. 

Gilbert sentenced Lakin for six years. 

Madison County judges sent Unsell’s suit to St. Clair County, where associate judge James Radcliffe stayed it pending the outcome of Colburn’s investigation. 

Unsell moved to lift the stay in 2011, claiming Colburn exhibited no indication of any intention to prosecute. 

He served subpoenas on Colburn and chief appellate prosecutor Patrick Delfino for information about their progress. 

Eighteen days later, Delfino announced an agreement that Lakin wouldn’t plead guilty of sex crimes but would register as a sex offender

Lakin stipulated that he performed oral sex on a boy 15 years old. 

Madison County associate judge Charles Romani approved the agreement. 

Lakin finished his sentence in 2013, and the civil suit resumed. 

Unsell moved for summary judgment on liability, arguing that Lakin admitted liability by registering as a sex offender. 

Lakin’s lawyer, Clyde Kuehn of Belleville, answered that Lakin pleaded not guilty to sexual abuse charges and that he denied every allegation in Unsell’s complaint. 

He claimed the state wouldn’t have resolved accusations against Lakin without agreeing to forego an admission of guilt. 

“In fact, those Madison County criminal proceedings were specifically designed to end an unknown specter of menacing criminal liability while at the same time allowing Tom Lakin the freedom and opportunity to actually litigate in the future,” Kuehn wrote. 

Associate judge Heinz Rudolf, now circuit judge, granted summary judgment on liability in 2014. 

Lakin and Unsell settled the suit in 2017. 

This Nov. 1, Rodney Caffey of Godfrey filed the John Doe suit against Geico. 

He wrote that Doe was injured in a vehicle collision on Jan. 19, 2016. 

He claimed Geico refused to pay underinsured motorist proceeds despite an arbitration award in excess of $600,000. 

Geico counsel John Gilligan of Chicago removed the suit to federal court on Dec. 13, identifying Geico as a corporation in Maryland. 

He identified John Doe as Lowell T. Lakin, and wrote that Geico insured Doe’s 2005 Lexus ES 350. 

He identified the other driver as Sheila Huggins, insured by Liberty Mutual. 

He wrote that the accident occurred at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 19, 2016, in Edwardsville. 

“Geico questions the legitimacy of the cause of action as alleged and the correctness of the facts alleged,” he wrote. 

On Dec. 20, two days after Gilbert ordered an explanation of the pseudonym, Gilligan filed answers to the complaint. 

He admitted that Doe claimed underinsured motorist coverage for alleged injuries. 

“Defendant denied causation as to the injuries claimed and the extent of injuries and the amount of damages as a result,” Gilligan wrote.

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