Experienced litigators lead battle against Chicago elections board

Legal News Line Feb. 7, 2007, 3:31am

Peter Zelchenko, Chicago resident and candidate for alderman in the city's 43rd ward.

Class action attorney Burton I. Weinstein from the Chicago firm of Baskin, Server, Berke & Weinstein In 1999, Weinstein was of counsel in a class action suit against Cook County, related to automation fees paid on Cook County real estate taxes.

Two recent class action suits against the City of Chicago Board of Election Commissioners are being led by Chicago attorneys well-acquainted with complex class action litigation and hefty settlements. Lead attorney in one suit --Robert A. Holstein of Chicago-- appears to be familiar with the plaintiffs as well, as he helped secure a settlement for one of them in a 2004 class action suit. The current cases arise from the recent leak of detailed personal information by the Board of Election Commissioners. Meliza Aldea, of Chicago, and her husband Romeo Aldea, filed suit along with Robert Green of Chicago on Jan. 22, alleging various statutory and common law violations related to the Board's release of sensitive personal information of approximately 1.3 million Chicago residents. A second class action suit was filed the same day by Peter Zelchenko, a Chicago resident and candidate for alderman in the city's 43rd ward. Both suits are predicated on violations of the Personal Information Protection Act, the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, and the privacy rights of the plaintiffs and all members of the plaintiffs' putative class. All allegations stem from the Board's distribution of voter registration data stored on CDs to aldermen and ward committeemen throughout Chicago. The discs contain voters' names, addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers and names of family members, among other data. Hundreds of the discs were produced and disseminated in December 2006. Due to the "extremely injurious" nature of the security breach, plaintiffs in both suits seek compensatory and punitive damages. Plaintiffs also seek an injunction requiring the Board to recover and delete all information from the discs in question. Suits were filed in federal court and the Circuit Court of Cook County. The Aldeas and Green are currently represented by six Chicago firms with several class action cases and settlements to their credit. Like her attorneys, Meliza Aldea is no stranger to class action litigation. In 2003, Aldea was among the plaintiffs in a class action suit against Nextel. Holstein was among the class attorneys in the Nextel action as well. The case, In re Wireless Telephone Federal Cost Recovery Litigation, turned on allegations that Nextel defrauded customers through a "Federal Programs Cost Recovery" (FPCR) fee that appeared on their bills. The class plaintiffs argued that Nextel impermissibly disguised a rate hike as a tax. Nextel eventually agreed to a nationwide class settlement, of which Aldea and Holstein were beneficiaries. The Nextel litigation was one of many class action suits that Robert Holstein has helped lead. Holstein has more than 40 years of experience in a wide range of class action tort cases, including suits against Bayer, Eli Lilly, BP, Prudential, Liberty Mutual, and a host of other corporate defendants. He played a role in the litigation frenzy against silicone breast implant manufacturers in the early 1990s, spearheading a suit against Bristol-Meyers in 1992. Holstein also led a personal injury suit against Motorola in 1995, alleging that a cell phone manufactured by Motorola caused or aggravated the plaintiff's brain tumor. In 1996, Holstein's firm dissolved amid a bankruptcy scandal. After the firm drew on bank loans to sink $3 million into a class action suit against Norplant contraceptives, a Cook County judge decertified the case. The firm – Holstein, Mack & Klein – was left owing the American National Bank and Trust of Chicago approximately $1.5 million. The bank sued Holstein and the firm, and Holstein reached a settlement agreement with the bank in 1997. His partners went bankrupt. Holstein now runs his own firm, Holstein Law Offices, LLC, in Chicago. In addition to the Aldea action, Holstein is currently pursuing a class action suit against the Chicago Board of Education related to a similar security breach. Plaintiff's counsel in the Aldea suit also includes William J. Harte of William J. Harte, Ltd. Harte has extensive experience in tort and commercial law. Recent class actions in which Harte has participated include: a suit against Blockbuster for unfair late fees, a race discrimination suit against DaimlerChrysler, and a suit against Wyeth Laboratories for marketing allegedly fraudulent sore throat remedies. Harte also helped lead a class action against Dennis Kozlowski stemming from the Tyco fraud scandal, and a class action against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to prevent the governor's attempt to veto a cost of living adjustment for Illinois judges in 2004. Joining Holstein and Harte is Burton I. Weinstein, another prominent class action attorney from the Chicago firm of Baskin, Server, Berke & Weinstein. In 1999, Weinstein was of counsel in a class action suit against Cook County, related to automation fees paid on Cook County real estate taxes. Weinstein also took part in a 1990s class action against Suzuki, related to the rollover risk of the infamous Suzuki Samurai. Another attorney from Weinstein's case against Suzuki was C. Corey S. Berman, who is now representing Aldea as well. Berman was an associate at Robert Holstein's firm in the 1990s and currently runs his own practice in Chicago. Berman primarily handles commercial tort litigation. Notable cases of Berman's include two products liability suits against Suzuki Motors and an action against the Santa Fe Pacific Corp. Rounding out the plaintiff's lineup in Aldea's case are Kenneth R. Siegan of Kenneth R. Siegan & Associates, P.C., and Marc N. Blumenthal from the Law Offices of Marc N. Blumenthal. Both practice in Chicago and work mainly in business and commercial law. Zelchenko The Zelchenko class action is led by Nicholas C. Kefalos of Chicago's Vernor Moran, LLC. Kefalos is the only attorney on Zelchenko's case so far. He received his J.D. from Wayne State University in 1999 and has dealt primarily in commercial and employment litigation. Kefalos was an associate with Wildman Harrold in Chicago before joining Vernor Moran. He is a member of the Corporation, Securities, and Business Law Council of the Illinois Bar, and has often served as defense counsel in corporate cases. According to a press release published on Zelchenko's web site (re4m.org), Kefalos has handled multiple cases involving Fortune 500 companies, and recently won a $70 million patent infringement suit. With regard to money damages in the Board of Elections suit, Kefalos stated in a Jan. 22 press release that it "could easily reach into the tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars." Both suits seek to set up an endowment fund to pay damages to the 1.3 million members of the class. Zelchenko's suit has been set on the case management call in the Circuit Court of Cook County before Judge Mary Ann Mason. The first hearing date is set for June 6. Zelchenko also filed the case in the federal court for the Northern District of Illinois, before Judge James F. Holderman. The federal case asserts civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. 1983, which allows actions for deprivation of Constitutional rights. A hearing date has not yet been set in federal court. Aldea's suit has been set for a case management hearing on June 6 before Judge James R. Epstein in the Circuit Court of Cook County.

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