Labeling him "America's worst governor," the Wall Street Journal notes in a Dec. 22 editorial that Pat Quinn in his final days as chief executive enacted two laws that are "stocking stuffers" for the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association.
Quinn signed into law legislation that will reduce the number of jurors hearing civil cases from 12 to six and increase juror pay to $25 per day for the first day of service and $50 per day thereafter - SB 3075.
He also signed into law a bill that will expand liability for persons exposed to asbestos by eliminating a 10-year statute of repose - SB2221. This bill will also significantly increase the number of parties that can be held liable for asbestos related cases and could include supervising architects, design engineers, and public school boards.
"The existing 10-year 'statute of repose' hasn’t created a shortage of lawsuits," the editorial states. "Madison County...is notorious for its jackpot verdicts in civil trials, making it a nationwide destination for civil cases."
It cites U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform statistics, as reported by the Madison-St. Clair Record, that 99 percent of asbestos suits filed in 2013 in Madison County were filed on behalf of plaintiffs from outside the county. Further, more than 90 percent were not from Illinois.
"The vast majority settle, with lawyers getting contingency-fee payments, which means that asbestos suits are the closest thing to a guaranteed income in America’s private economy," the editorial notes.
The newspaper calls the bills Quinn signed into law on Dec. 19 "payback to the trial lawyers who finance the state’s Democratic machine."
"In 2013 the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association PAC made some $422,000 in contributions, overwhelmingly to Democrats. Individual trial lawyers give far more through bundling multiple donations to candidates."
Local plaintiff attorneys and firms, two of which are major asbestos filers, play substantial roles in Illinois politics.
An analysis of state level campaign contributions made in the most current election cycle shows that East Alton asbestos lawyer John Simmons gave Illinois Democrats $489,000 in two years, and Edwardsville asbestos lawyer Randy Gori gave them $440,449.
Tom Keefe of Swansea led St. Clair County lawyers, giving Democrats $274,430.
Records through Oct. 29 show Simmons, Gori, and Keefe gave modest amounts to local candidates, saving the big checks for the party and its statewide leaders.
Near the end of the current campaign, each of them gave $21,100 to the Illinois Democratic Party and $21,100 to the party’s Democratic Majority committee.
They helped the party prop up candidates in legislative races around the state.
Each of them gave more than $6,000 to Kate Cloonen of Kankakee, and each gave $4,500 to Jenny Burke of Itasca, $4,000 to Bill Kilquist of Carbondale, $3,000 to Deborah Conroy of Villa Park, and $2,500 to Mike Zalewski of Chicago
Gori delivered $176,700 to Democrats in September and October, including $15,250 for the party in Madison County, $15,000 for Quinn, and $10,500 for House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Simmons delivered $184,400, including $10,500 for Madigan, $10,000 for the party in St. Clair County, and $7,500 for the party in Madison County.
Keefe delivered $126,480, including $11,000 for Quinn, $5,000 for St. Clair County Democrats, and $2,500 for Madison County Democrats.
Through the full two year election cycle, Simmons, Gori, and Keefe delivered $1,203,879.
That almost exactly matches the amount that class action lawyer Stephen Tillery of St. Louis raised in 12 days, to oppose retention of Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier.
Tillery associates George Zelcs and Christine Moody each contributed $600,000 to Campaign for 2016, the group opposing Karmeier.
Class action lawyer Robert Clifford of Chicago gave the group $150,000, bringing the two year total of his Illinois contributions to $618,650.
Clifford gave $108,800 to Quinn, $42,200 each to the state party and Democratic Majority, $25,000 to Secretary of State Jesse White, $21,100 to Senate Democratic Victory, $21,000 to Speaker Madigan, and $5,800 to Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
Like Simmons, Gori, and Keefe, he gave more than $6,000 to Cloonen, $4,500 to Burke, $4,000 to Kilquist, $3,000 to Conroy, and $2,500 to Zalewski.
Simmons and Clifford each gave the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association $40,000 over two years, while Keefe and Gori each gave the group $30,000.
The trial lawyers gave $25,000 to Democratic Majority this April, and gave $25,000 to the state party in August.
The Wall Street Journal concludes its editorial:
"The biggest loser is the Illinois economy, which is already the poorest performing in the Great Lakes region. Making the state a trial-lawyer mecca is another reason—along with its high corporate tax rate and public-union dominance—to locate a business somewhere else. New Governor Bruce Rauner has the hardest political cleanup job in America, and maybe the world."
Editor's note: The Madison-St. Clair Record is owned by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.