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Edelson: Disqualify wife's divorce lawyers, because might aid Johnson & Bell disparagement case vs Edelson

State Court

By Dan Churney | Sep 27, 2019

Jay edelson landscape
Jay Edelson of Edelson, PC

CHICAGO -- Chicago class action lawyer Jay Edelson, who is mired in divorce proceedings, wants his wife’s attorneys kicked off the case, because he alleges they could feed sensitive information from the divorce to the Chicago firm Johnson & Bell, which is suing Edelson on grounds he wrongfully disparaged their practice.

“In light of the unrestrainably antagonistic nature of the relationship between Johnson & Bell on one hand and Edelson PC and Jay, on the other, this honorable court should presume that Johnson & Bell will exploit any advantage available to it in its pursuit of retribution against Edelson PC and Jay,” Edelson said in a recently filed motion.

Edelson described his firm, Edelson PC, as a “nationally recognized plaintiffs’ law firm that focuses on class, mass, and governmental actions, and other high stakes litigation.” The firm has reaped many millions in fees from a range of class action lawsuits in recent years against a host of businesses and employers, mainly centered on technology and privacy. Targets in those lawsuits have ranged from huge organizations like Facebook and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, to tech startups and other smaller companies.

However, in more recent months, the firm has also taken on cases representing local governments, including Cook County, in cases against pharmaceutical companies. The firm is also representing the village of Melrose Park in an action to prevent the owners of Westlake Hospital from closing the allegedly unprofitable hospital, and representing the would-be buyers of a Blue Island hospital against the owners of MetroSouth Medical Center, who also wish to close that hospital.

Johnson & Bell specializes in defending corporations against lawsuits, like those brought by Edelson and other plaintiffs' law firms.

Johnson & Bell sued Edelson in 2017 in Cook County Circuit Court, alleging Edelson disseminated “lies” about the firm’s allegedly inadequate data security to the Wall Street Journal and the professional publication American Lawyer. 

In addition, Johnson & Bell alleged Edelson and his firm have violated ethical duties, abused court processes and “engaged in a self-serving publicity tour spreading their lies and defamatory statements.” Johnson & Bell also alleged Edelson preys on businesses with nuisance suits to extort settlements.

Edelson contended he and his firm have done no wrong.

“The extrajudicial statements were substantially true, nondefamatory and subject to innocent construction; [we did not] disparage J&B’s legal ability or ethics,” Edelson said.

The case stems from 2016, when Edelson started handling a federal class action against Johnson & Bell, alleging the firm's cybersecurity was faulty. Edelson also alleged the law firm committed malpractice in an underlying suit. Johnson & Bell denied all allegations.

The class action was dropped but Edelson demanded arbitration in the matter. Edelson then had the record in the case unsealed and allegedly “restated the false and defamatory allegations,” according to Johnson & Bell. 

In the meantime in Cook County Circuit Court, Edelson and his wife, Dana, entered into divorce proceeedings. Dana has been represented by Schiller, DuCanto & Fleck, of Chicago. However, Edelson said, the Schiller firm has relied on Johnson & Bell for counsel in connection with "actual or potential" malpractice suits.

As a consequence, Edelson lodged a motion Sept. 3 to have the Schiller firm disqualified from further involvement in the divorce case, on grounds the firm will allegedly pass on “highly sensitive” information to Johnson & Bell that could “hinder” his practice and, in turn, financially harm his wife and their children. 

Edelson further contended that if disqualification does not take place, he “will likely feel compelled to acquiesce to Dana’s unreasonable settlement demands in order to reduce the risk of Johnson & Bell's obtaining access to such sensitive documents.”

According to Edelson, Dana Edelson’s divorce attorneys have subpoenaed his firm’s financial records, which Johnson & Bell tried unsuccessfully to acquire in the disparagement suit.

Edelson acknowledged a confidentialty order was imposed Aug. 19, but said an exception to the order allows either party or their attorneys to disclose confidential information to professionals, who may be consulted regarding any matters connected to the divorce. He noted Johnson & Bell is seeking in excess of $1 million in the disparagement action, which presents a potential marital liability for him and his wife.

Edelson’s side has also voiced worry his wife will dissipate their assets.

“Dana appears to consistently engage in a very dangerous game of chicken, which threatens the financial well-being of this family and Jay’s law firm,” Edelson’s attorneys alleged. “She presents a false and disparaging narrative of Jay that could cripple his firm’s practice, expecting Jay to succumb to the pressure she thereby places on him and accede to her demands before the predictable repercussions of her conduct materialize to the detriment of all.”

Edelson recently filed a motion to quash Dana Edelson's subpoenas for his consumer transaction records with Google payment, Apple payments, PayPal, Square Capital and Western Union Financial Service. Edelson contended Dana knows he is in litigation with at least two of these entities and could have sought the records from his banks. In addition,, he said he has already turned over account statements from Google, Apple and the others, and will voluntarily provide updated statements. However, Dana instead issued the subpoenas to allegedly harass him, Edelson stated.

While Edelson wants to disqualify his wife’s attorneys, his wife already has knocked away two of Edelson’s attorneys.

Rafey Balabanian and Benjamin Richman are with Edelson’s firm and were helping represent him in the divorce, but Dana Edelson had Balabanian and Richman removed from the case in August by Circuit Judge Debra Walker. The spouse had argued the pair represented her in legal matters while she was still with her husband, gaining private information that Edelson “could use to her detriment.”

Edelson tried to have the disparagement action tossed on the basis it constituted a strategic lawsuit against public participation, which violates the Illinois Citizen Participation Act.  A SLAPP is a suit that seeks to impede freedom of speech by burdening a party with the cost of a legal defense. The Illinois Citizen Participation Act seeks to protect against SLAPPs. Edelson maintained Johnson & Bell retaliated against him for his comments with their suit, in an attempt to choke his right to speak.

However, Circuit Judge Jerry Esrig rejected Edelson's request last month. Johnson & Bell had argued its suit "does not bear any of the hallmarks of a SLAPP," in part, because SLAPPs try to shut down speech that seeks to "procure favorable government action," which Edelson's speech did not seek.

Edelson is represented in the disparagement suit by the Chicago firm of Funkhouser, Vegosen, Liebman & Dunn. The Chicago firm of Dussias Wittenberg Koenigsberger LLP is handling his divorce.

Johnson & Bell is represented by its own lawyers, as well as by the Chicago firm of Spellmire Bruck LLP and the suburban Geneva firm of Konicek & Dillon.

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Organizations in this Story

Funkhouser Vegosen Liebman & Dunn Ltd.Edelson, PCCircuit Court of Cook CountyKonicek & Dillon, PCJohnson & BellDussias Wittenberg Koenigsberger LLPSpellmire Bruck LLP

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