Ann Maher May 19, 2015, 4:24pm


It got a little loud at Edwardsville's public library Tuesday morning, but by the end of a feisty tort reform press conference the organizer and his chief agitator found detente by way of a handshake and the promise of a steak and a beer.

Travis Akin, Executive Director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch (I-LAW), was joined by Madison County Board Member Tom McRae, who promoted lawsuit reform as a way to create better opportunities for families today and future generations.

Akin said the aim of his group right now is to help get Gov. Bruce Rauner's civil justice proposals, such as venue and joint and several liability reforms, passed by putting pressure on legislators.

There are no current reform bills being debated in Springfield. At this late juncture in the legislative session, such proposals would have to come in the form of amendments to pending legislation.

An I-LAW press release distributed at the press conference pointed to Madison and St. Clair counties as "magnets" for lawsuit abuse and reasons why tort laws need to change.

"The people of Madison and St. Clair counties are tired of seeing jobs and opportunities leave Illinois," the release states. "They understand that if we are going to bring more jobs to Illinois, we need to put an end to abusive lawsuits."

But about as soon as Akin described Madison County in terms of "judicial hellhole" and the burdens that out of state asbestos claimants place on the local court system, Edwardsville attorney Jack Daugherty mounted challenges that would include a range of topics, such as the effectiveness of medical malpractice reforms, jobs and the state's business climate.

Daugherty also opposed Akin's argument that Madison County's large national asbestos docket is a detriment. He argued that property owners have benefited from it - the county has generated at least $10 million annuallly in filing and answering fees over the past couple of years - and said that Madison is one of few counties in the state where taxes have not gone up.

He also said that Madison County's asbestos docket provides businesses with predictability and fairness, and is a "good atmosphere." He said the court is proficient at handling large numbers of asbestos claims.

Daugherty's law practice includes pursuing asbestos claims.

"Jack has recovered millions of dollars for those afflicted with mesothelioma and lung cancer," his website states.

He said that if businesses think a claim is bad, they will take it to trial, and win.

"Plaintiffs haven't won a verdict in a long time,"he said.

McRae, a Republican from Bethalto, countered that businesses don't perceive Madison County as a fair place to do business.

He argued with Daugherty about the loss of manufacturing jobs, and that new jobs being created through the warehouse sector aren't providing the same level of wages as those that have been lost.

"I'm concerned about the people who won't come," because of the county's reputation, McRae said.

Daugherty said that Madison County is a "hub of industry."

"Business is coming here," he said. "Your very premise is false."

Akin called Daugherty "a rich, personal injury lawyer" who might not be satisfied with a $15 per hour wage as provided in the warehouse sector.

The press conference was covered by two reporters and a small group who challenged I-LAW on its use of the term "hellhole."

"We are not a hellhole or a hole of any kind," said a member of the group. "We are a great place."

Tensions were eased at the end of the conference when Daugherty made Akin an offer.

"If you promise to stop calling names, I'll take you...for a steak dinner and a beer," Daugherty said.

Akin said he would think about it.

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