Judge tosses Chicago law firm’s legal action on missing Malaysian plane, scolds lawyers

Published: March 31, 2014

Chinese relatives of passengers from missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 pray before a meeting at the Metro Park Lido Hotel in Beijing on March 31, 2014. WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images

MICHAEL TARM
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

CHICAGO — A judge has thrown out a civil action on behalf of a relative of a Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 passenger, scolding the Chicago law firm involved for what she described as an improper filing.

In a step toward a full-fledged lawsuit, Ribbeck Law Chartered asked Cook County Circuit Court last week to order Malaysia Airlines and Chicago-based Boeing Co. to turn over any documents related to the plane’s disappearance.

Judge Kathy Flanagan rejected the firm’s request in her four-page ruling Friday, saying the filing didn’t conform to Illinois law, in part, because ordering evidence to be preserved can only happen when potential defendants are known.

The court papers were filed by the law firm on behalf of Januari Siregar, who the law firm says is a relative of Indonesian-born passenger Firman Chandra Siregar. The exact relationship wasn’t clear from the documents.

A spokesman for Ribbeck Law said Monday the ruling won’t end the firm’s push for a full-fledged lawsuit.

“It really has no effect,” Mervin Mateo said. “We will wait until the debris had been found. … Then, we can file a lawsuit.”

Dozens of countries continue searching for the Boeing 777, which disappeared on March 8 with 239 people aboard.

Flanagan noted she tossed two similar filings by Ribbeck Law last year, including in the crash landing of Asiana Flight 214 in San Francisco.

“Despite these orders, the same law firm has proceeded, yet again, with the filing (on the Malaysian plane) knowing full well that there is no basis to do so,” she wrote. “Should this law firm choose to do so, the Court will impose sanctions on its own motion.”

Mateo declined to comment on that warning.

The National Transportation Safety Board complained after the crash landing of the Asiana plane that some attorneys may have violated a law barring uninvited solicitation of air disaster victims in the first 45 days after an accident.

The NTSB pointed specifically at Ribbeck Law, saying they would report the firm to Illinois’ Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. The commission does not comment on whether complaints have been filed.

Asked about whether Ribbeck Law may have acted improperly regarding the litigation it launched in the Asiana crash, Mateo responded, “That’s completely untrue.”

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