Illinois Plaintiffs’ Attorney Manages to Sue Himself in Complicated Scheme

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It’s very complicated, but I think it shakes out like this.

Emert Wyss, an attorney in Alton, Illinois, represented Carmelita McLaughlin when she bought a house in 2002 and also later when she refinanced it. Sometime later, after the mortgage had been assigned to a third party, Wyss advised McLaughlin that she might have a claim against the mortgage holder for some illegal fees she had been charged. McLaughlin thought that sounded like a good idea so she signed a retainer agreement, which provided that the case would be handled by (among others) the Lakin Law Firm in Wood River, Illinois, with whom Wyss was affiliated. Lakin and Wyss then brought a class action against the mortgage holder, Alliance Mortgage.

The problem was that the fees had originally been charged by Centerre Title Company, which Wyss owns. So essentially, Wyss had advised McLaughlin to sue to get back fees that he had charged her in the first place. As far as I can tell, the plan was to wait until the mortgage had been assigned and then get Lakin to bring a class action against the new holder. Wyss would get ten percent of any settlement in exchange for the referral.

I guess that might work, if the mortgage holder is a dummy. It didn’t take this one long to find out that Wyss was involved. At Wyss’s deposition last year, Wyss claimed that Lakin had suggested that he review Centerre Title’s files “to see if his clients were victimized.” By him, that is. “So,” Alliance’s attorney asked, “Emert Wyss, [as] Centerre Title Company, collects the fees from Ms. McLaughlin, and now we have six, seven, eight months later, Emert Wyss [as] Ms. McLaughlin’s attorney suggests she file suit over the very fees his title company collected from her, is that right?”

“That is right,” Wyss said.  “It oversimplifies it, but that is correct.”

In the end, the judge ordered that Centerre Title and Wyss himself be added as indispensable parties to the lawsuit, so that Wyss became a third-party defendant in a lawsuit he filed in the first place. He has had to waive any right to attorneys’ fees so he will not be collecting from himself, either.

Update: The judge later dismissed Wyss as a defendant, saying that Centerre Title’s corporate status protected him from personal liability. A motion for sanctions against him was withdrawn when he agreed to waive any claim to attorneys’ fees.