Supreme Court opens Nov. term; set to hear arguments in 15 cases

By Bethany Krajelis | Nov 12, 2014

The Illinois Supreme Court will review a pair of cases this month that involve local law firms as parties.

These cases -- Illinois State Bar Association Mutual Insurance Co., v. Law Office of Tuzzolino and Terpinas, etc., et al., and Ferris, Thompson & Zweig, Ltd. v. Anthony  Esposito – are two of the 15 the high court will hear arguments in over the next two weeks.

The justices’ November term opened with arguments today in four criminal matters and will continue Thursday with three more criminal cases. It will resume next week, when they will hear eight civil matters over three days, starting on Tuesday.

Although the court’s docket shows there are two law firms as parties in a pair of cases this term, the issues being presented are very different as one firm is the defendant in an insurance matter and the other a plaintiff in a dispute over a referral fee agreement.

At issue in Illinois State Bar Association Mutual Insurance Co., v. Law Office of Tuzzolino and Terpinas, etc., et al., is whether a Skokie law firm’s malpractice liability insurance was voided based on one of the partner’s misrepresentations in applying for coverage.

The First District Appellate Court ruled in favor of lawyer Will Terpinas Jr. in his dispute with ISBA Mutual, holding that his coverage was not voided by the intentional failure of his partner, Sam Tuzzolino, to disclose to the insurer a former client was suing him when he renewed the firm’s policy.

The panel’s decision overturned the judgment of Cook County Circuit Court Judge Rita M. Novak, who had agreed with the insurer’s argument that the misrepresentations expressed by Tuzzolino on his renewal application for malpractice liability insurance voided coverage for the entire law firm of Tuzzolino and Terpinas.

In reversing Novak’s ruling, the appeals panel explained that a denial of coverage would not only harm the lawyers, but the “initially wronged party,” the former client suing for malpractice.

“Thus, while the insurers and insureds may argue over who is the truly ‘innocent’ party for the purposes of equities, such a focus misses impact on the underlying malpractice litigation,” the First District panel held.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in this case on Tuesday, Nov. 18.

And on Nov. 20, the justices will listen to Ferris, Thompson  &  Zweig Ltd.,  v. Anthony  Esposito, a case that asks them to weigh in on a fight pitting a law firm against a lawyer it had entered into a referral agreement with.

In 2012, Ferris, Thompson & Zwieg sued Libertyville attorney Anthony Esposito in the Lake County Circuit Court for breach of contract, claiming he failed to pay the fees laid out in a referral agreement.

Under the agreement, the firm -- which has four offices in Illinois, including in Chicago, Deerfield Gurnee and Waukegan – would receive 45 percent of the attorneys’ fees recovered in two workers’ compensation cases the firm had referred to Esposito, who would keep the remaining 55 percent.

The two cases the firm referred to Esposito were settled in 2010 for a total of about $4,500. The firm filed its suit after Esposito refused to pay up when it asked for its share.

In seeking the suit’s dismissal, Esposito argued that the firm should have brought its claim to the Workers’ Compensation Commission, not in the courts, because the Workers’ Compensation Act says any and all disputes over attorneys’ fees should be heard by the commission.

Lake County Circuit Judge Michael J. Fusz denied Esposito’s request to toss the suit and ordered him to pay the firm its share of the fees under the agreement, as well as interest.

The Second District Appellate Court affirmed, saying while the act requires the commission to resolve disputes over the fees of those appearing before it, “we fail to see why the Commission would be inserted into a dispute concerning a referral agreement executed by two attorneys,” as the firm never appeared before the commission.

The other civil cases the Supreme Court will hear next week (Nov. 18-Nov. 20) are:

  • In re D.L.H. Jr., a minor, No. 117341 (First District);

  • Grand Chapter, Order of the Eastern Star of the State of Illinois, v. Judy Barr Topinka, et al., etc., No. 117083 (Macon Co.);

  • People ex rel. Lisa Madigan, etc., v. J.T. Einoder Inc., etc., No. 117193 (First District);

  • Illinois State Treasurer etc., v. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission et al. (Joseph Meuse et al., etc.), No. 117418 (First District);

  • Anthony Williams et al., v. BNSF Railway Co., No. 117444 (First District); and

  • In re Marriage of Raymond A. Eckersall III and Catherine Eckersall, No. 117922 (First District);

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