Attorney for Suburban Express owner says he wants out

Attorney for Suburban Express owner says he wants out

CHAMPAIGN — The lawyer for Suburban Express owner Dennis Toeppen wants to withdraw as counsel because of unpaid fees and a strategic impasse.

In addition to a lawsuit from the Illinois Attorney General, Toeppen faces a lawsuit from his business's insurer, which doesn't want to provide coverage for the state lawsuit.

James Long, an attorney with Chapin & Long in Savoy, filed a motion to withdraw this week.

Long and Toeppen "have reached an impasse regarding strategic decisions regarding the defense of this matter and how to further proceed," Long wrote. "As a result of these disagreements, the continued representation of the Defendants by the movant will result in an unreasonable financial burden on" Long.

"Defendants do not have funds to pay counsel and have accumulated a substantial past-due balance," Long wrote.

He also said traveling to Chicago for hearings has been a "substantial burden to all Defendants and their counsel."

Long and Toeppen did not return requests for comment.

After this article was published, Toeppen emailed The News-Gazette to criticize its reporting.

"Don't try to report on things you do not understand and are unwilling to research," he wrote. "Your reporting on this matter has been idiotic in the extreme."

A News-Gazette email asking for clarification bounced back with an error saying the sender's email address had been rejected.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a federal lawsuit in April in Chicago against Suburban Express and Toeppen for alleged discrimination and harassment against its customers.

While the two sides have been discussing a resolution, Madigan said when the lawsuit was filed that she was trying to force Toeppen and Suburban Express to either comply with the law or go out of business.

Madigan is seeking $50,000 per deceptive act or unfair practice, an additional $50,000 per deceptive act or unfair practice committed with the intent to defraud, $10,000 for offenses against people older than 65 and up to $10,000 per defendant for each unlawful act of discrimination.

Suburban Express' insurers say they don't have to cover those claims.

The Hartford has denied coverage, Long said, and Manufacturers Alliance Insurance Company denied coverage and filed a lawsuit against Toeppen and Allerton Charter Coach, which operates as a contractor for Suburban Express.

It's seeking a decision from the court on whether it correctly denied coverage, arguing that policies Allerton and Toeppen have exclude coverage when the damages result from intentional misconduct, as Madigan's lawsuit alleges.

Her lawsuit stems from an email advertisement Suburban Express sent in December saying its benefits included "Passengers like you. You won't feel like you're in China when you're on our buses."

That led to a swift backlash, apologies and a subpoena from Madigan's office to determine whether Suburban Express had violated the Illinois Human Rights Act.

Since the lawsuit was filed, Suburban Express and Toeppen have been complying with a temporary restraining order requiring the company to remove personally identifying information from its website, stop retaliating against customers for negative reviews and remove language from its contract prohibiting negative reviews.