Judge Kathy Flanagan – who used to be a teacher in the Chicago public schools – wanted to send a lesson to some local lawyers about their two pre-lawsuit discovery petitions filed in her court over a still-missing Malaysia Airlines plane.
The well-known Cook County Circuit Court judge tossed out the petitions and warned Chicago’s Ribbeck Law Chartered if similar actions continue she would impose “sanctions” against them.
Flanagan dismissed one petition on Friday and the other petition on Monday, her office confirmed to InsideCounsel on Monday.
The discovery petitions were filed against Boeing – the Chicago-based company which built the missing 777 – and Malaysia Airlines.
The plane could have crashed into the Indian Ocean, and there is speculation that none of the 239 passengers or crew members survived, but so far no confirmed signs of the plane have been found.
Many of the passengers on Flight 370 were from China, and as of last week a lawyer affiliated with Ribbeck was reportedly looking for clients in that nation.
But back in Chicago, Friday’s petition from Ribbeck was dismissed because it was improperly filed. Basically, the petition cited state law that is reserved for times when potential parties in a lawsuit are unknown. But in this circumstance Ribbeck named Boeing and Malaysia Airlines as defendants.
"The Supreme Court Rule 224 petition exceeds the allowable scope of the rule, and must be dismissed," Flanagan said. "Once there is sufficient information to identify at least one potential defendant, then the correct procedure is to file an action at law for damages."
The case also appears to test Flanagan’s patience because the very same law firm tried to use similar arguments in response to earlier Laos Airlines and Asiana Airlines crashes. Those petitions were thrown out of court, too, also by Flanagan. “The same law firm has proceeded, yet again, with the filing of the instant petition knowing full well that there is no basis to do so. Should this law firm choose to do so, the Court will impose sanctions on its' own motion," Flanagan wrote in a ruling.
Flanagan oversees airline-related lawsuits filed in the Cook County Circuit Court. She is also the supervising judge of the Motion Section.
In filing its petition, Ribbeck Law Chartered claims to represent Januari Siregar, a reported relative of Firman Siregar, who was listed as a passenger on Flight 370. The firm further predicted it will represent half of all passengers’ families. The Wall Street Journal reported a spokesman for the Siregar family said Januari Siregar was “a distant relative of Firman Siregar.” In addition, the spokesman said the family “hadn't authorized Januari Siregar “to act as a legal representative of the family,” The Journal reported. Also, The Chicago Tribune reported a “spokesman for (Firman) Siregar's real father [said] … that Ribbeck Law had no authorization from him to take legal action in Chicago.”
Ribbeck’s petition was believed to be the first court action filed in connection with the missing Malaysia Airlines passenger jet.
Mervin Mateo, a spokesman for the Ribbeck law firm, was quoted by The Associated Press that the law firm plans to file a lawsuit if and when the remains of the plane are found.
Many local attorneys, such as Robert Clifford, who specializes in aviation disasters, had predicted Ribbeck’s motion in the missing Malaysia case would be tossed out of court. Last week, he told Inside Counsel the filing was “grossly premature and without foundation.” He also described it as a “publicity stunt.” As of Monday, Ribbeck had not released a statement in response to Flanagan’s rulings.