Two Lawyers Give $650,000 for Legal Aid Share of Suit Settlement Will Help Needy

Article excerpt

Hundreds of needy people who could not otherwise afford legal services will get help, thanks to a $650,000 gift by two Belleville lawyers to the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, based in East St. Louis.

The donation is from Bruce N. Cook and Harriet H. Hamilton of the law firm of Cook, Shevlin, Ysursa, Brauer & Bartholomew.

It comprises their entire share of a $50 million settlement awarded in a class action suit against a group of infant formula manufacturers that was recently settled out of court. Russell K. Scott, Land of Lincoln's president and board chairman, called the gift "one of the most generous and unselfish acts of community betterment which has occurred in my more than 20 years of the practice of law." Scott said he was asked about the donation last week at a meeting of directors of legal aid programs from throughout Illinois. "They all want to know where they can get a Bruce Cook," he said. "This is a remarkable gift." Land of Lincoln provides legal aid to people below the poverty level in 65 counties in Southern Illinois. Its yearly budget is about $4 million. Scott said that since 1994, Congress had cut such programs by about one-third and considered eliminating them. Land of Lincoln focuses much of its work in St. Clair County, and the gift from Cook's firm is limited to assistance to residents of that county. Scott said Cook and his firm have helped provide legal services to the poor for many years. Scott said: "In this age of cynicism, particularly that directed at the legal profession, this act of pure beneficence by Mr. Cook and his firm not only belies that cynicism, but shines as a beacon of what is best about America and the legal profession." The gift was unsolicited, Scott noted. Cook, known for witticisms in and out of court, sighed impatiently when told of Scott's accolades. "Now I'm going to have to nice to him," he quipped. Hamilton deserves most of the credit, Cook added. "She did most of the work," he said. An array of lawyers had joined in the class action suit against Abbott Laboratories Inc. and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., charging illegal collaboration and price fixing in their sales of infant formulas, including Similac, Enfamil and Isomil. Federal officials began investigating the companies more than six years ago. …