Travis Akin Nov. 1, 2014, 11:59am

Personal injury lawyers have long viewed Metro-East courts as a place where they can strike it rich playing the lawsuit lottery. Too many Metro-East judges have failed to sanction personal injury lawyers for filing lawsuits that are either frivolous or have no business being filed here.

Perhaps one reason for the continuing tolerance of lawsuit abuse in Metro-East courts is that many of the judges in Madison and St. Clair counties have received significant campaign funding from the personal injury lawyers

Personal injury lawyers have spent millions over the past decade electing their buddies to serve as judges, with some judicial candidates receiving more than three-quarters of their campaign contributions just from personal injury lawyers and their law firms.

In just the past two weeks alone, a handful of the state’s wealthiest and most powerful personal injury lawyers have poured a whopping $2 million into an 11th hour attack campaign to defeat Justice Lloyd Karmeier in his retention race.

Another example of the cozy relationship between our judges and personal injury lawyers is a Metro-East judge who was caught accepting $30,000 in campaign contributions from three personal injury lawyer firms just four days after she awarded those firms over 82% of the following year’s coveted trial slots.

In a recent example of personal injury lawyers targeting Metro-East courts, the 5th District Appellate Court had to intervene to remove jurisdiction of a wrongful death lawsuit from Madison County Circuit Judge Dennis Ruth, stating that, “The circuit court erred in denying the defendants’ motion to dismiss or transfer based on improper venue where accident did not occur in county where suit was filed, the individual defendant did not reside in the county where suit was filed, and the corporate defendants did not have a registered office or other office in the county where suit was filed…”

The personal injury lawyer in this case filed a lawsuit against DOT Foods, the defendant, for an incident that occurred in Montgomery County. The company has no office in Madison County and about .0024 percent of their business comes from Madison County.
Why was this lawsuit filed in Madison County? Why did the Appellate Court have to intervene?

The answer is simple. Madison County judges too often fail to apply standards of common sense and allow too many lawsuits to be filed here that have little or no connection to Madison County.

And, interestingly, in the DOT Foods case, the plaintiff’s lawyer this year made thousands of dollars in campaign donations to the Madison County Circuit Court judge who allowed the case to be tried in Madison County.

Personal injury lawyers have every right to make campaign donations to judicial candidates, but when voters go to the polls on Tuesday, it is important for them to know which judges and judicial candidates are being supported or opposed by the personal injury lawyers.

Judges have the power to change the lawsuit climate in the Metro-East and can throw out cases that have nothing to do with the Metro-East. Judges here can create a more balanced litigation climate, which will help reduce lawsuits and create jobs. Judges also have the power to sanction aggressive personal injury lawyers who clog our courts with frivolous lawsuits.

Good judges matter. Will the judges we elect and retain stand up to the personal injury lawyers and transform Illinois from a magnet for lawsuits into a magnet for jobs? On November 4th, voters get to be the judge.

 Travis Akin is Executive Director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch

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