Local attorneys had mixed reactions after Madison County Associate Judge Clarence Harrison put a stop to advance asbestos trial settings.
Defense attorney Raymond Fournie, a partner at Armstrong Teasdale in St. Louis, said he is not sure what kind of impact the judge’s new order will have.
“Whether it will be negative on defendants still remains to be seen,” Fournie said.
Fournie was among a group of asbestos defense attorneys who had argued for eliminating the advance reservation system for preferred plaintiff’s firms, saying it encouraged the marketing of trial slots for claimants with little or no connection to Madison County.
On Thursday, Harrison entered the order terminating the court’s 2013 asbestos trial docket stating that he found “no continuing need for the pre-assignment of trial settings.”
In the order, Harrison also indicated that pre-trial mediation will be available in all asbestos cases. Mediation will be available on Fridays, he said.
Fournie called that “a positive thing.”
“The judge has seen the further in advance you can do things, the simpler the trial week is,” Fournie said. “Everything else is pretty much going to be status quo as far as arguing forum non conveniens motions as well as motions to dismiss or for summary judgment.”
Plaintiff attorney Richard Saville of Saville and Flint in Glen Carbon said he did not know what to expect (before Harrison made the order).
“We’re a medium sized firm,” he said. “Although the order sure seems like it’s going to change the procedure in Madison County, it’s not going to affect us. Typically our cases have strong ties to Illinois.
“We’ve been pleased with all of the asbestos judges and the way they handle things, and that includes Judge Harrison.”
Goldenberg Heller attorney Elizabeth Heller, who spoke at the trial docket hearing held Monday by Harrison, did not return a phone call to a Record reporter.
Harrison replaced Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder as head of the asbestos docket in December.
Crowder was reassigned to hear chancery, eminent domain and miscellaneous remedy cases after accepting $30,000 in campaign contributions from the area’s three largest asbestos firms. She had granted those firms – Simmons of Alton and Goldenberg and Gori and Julian of Edwardsville – 82 percent of trial slots for 2013. Crowder later returned the donations.
Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch Director Travis Akin described Harrison’s order as a “major breakthrough” for reform in Madison County.
“For too long, judges have allowed Metro-East courts to be turned into a destination docket for personal injury lawyers from all across the country to clog our courts with cases to be heard,” he said.
“It’s bad enough that Judge Crowder’s actions to give future trial slots to big campaign cases that haven’t even been filed. This ill-advised practice is now coming to an end. I applaud Judge Harrison for his decision to end the trial ‘reservation’ system,” Akin said.
Heyl Royster attorney Robert Shultz has been the lead advocate in reforming the court’s asbestos docket. Two weeks ago, he filed an 18-page brief opposing Crowder’s order. His brief stated the court’s trial reservation system is no longer being used for its original purpose, to resolve local asbestos lawsuits.
The brief was also signed by Fournie, Daniel Donahue of Foley & Mansfield in St. Louis; and Steven Hart of Segal McCambridge Singer & Mahoney of Chicago.
Shultz declined to comment.