SPRINGFIELD – Lawyers resisting tort reform claim asbestos cases “represent a fraction of total cases filed in Madison County.”
That fraction is three fourths.
In 2013 and 2014, asbestos plaintiffs filed 2,978 suits at law in Madison County circuit court, and other plaintiffs filed approximately 1,015 suits in the Law division. That’s 74.6 percent for asbestos.
As president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, Chicago attorney John Cooney - who operates a substantial asbestos practice primarily in Cook County - omitted these numbers from a statement he issued on April 29.
He opposed civil justice reforms that Gov. Bruce Rauner promised but had not yet offered for legislative action.
Cooney paid homage to victims of lung damage, accidents, and mistakes, and acted as an advocate for Madison County.
“Madison County is a huge county with historically large concentrations of industry,” he wrote.
Yet, according to the most recent census figures, just two percent of Illinois residents live in Madison County. Also, the county’s historic industries have dwindled to refineries and remnants of steel.
“Defendants sued in Madison County typically are directly connected to that county by virtue of having their principal place of business, a sales office, corporate headquarters, warehouse, factory or distribution center there.”
That might apply in cases that don’t involve asbestos, but no such connections exist for the majority of Madison County asbestos defendants.
Cooney wrote that asbestos represented a fraction of Madison County cases.
“The important point to remember about this litigation is that it involves legacy liability for conduct that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, and has no relevance to the operations of today’s Illinois businesses, which haven’t used asbestos for decades,” he wrote.
“It is particularly farcical to suggest that big businesses need additional advantages over working men and women.”
He cited the profits of Caterpillar, Walgreen’s and Boeing to show that “business is thriving in Illinois.”
Rauner’s proposal reached the Senate on May 22, through Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont.
The proposal provided that, “In any action in which none of the parties is a resident of this state and over which another forum has jurisdiction, the court shall on motion dismiss the action...unless the cause of action primarily arose in this state or the interests of justice require that the action proceed in this state.”
That would drastically curtail asbestos litigation in Madison County, which draws 98 percent of its plaintiffs from other states.
The bill provided that a court could award attorney fees and costs in connection with the dismissal.
It provided that a defendant seeking transfer to a different forum must accept service of process and waive any statute of limitation there.
It provided tighter standards for liability and proximate cause.
The bill failed on May 28, in the Senate judiciary committee, with eight Democrats voting against it and four Republicans in favor.
Rauner did not give up, choosing to continue negotiations on tort reform against the backdrop of a budget stalemate.
His opponents depend heavily on Cooney’s group, which kept “trial lawyers” in its name when the national group changed to American Association for Justice.
In the last half of last year, the association’s political action committee contributed $351,650 to Democratic candidates in Illinois campaigns.
The association depends heavily on lawyers who practice in Madison County and its judicial twin, St. Clair County.
In the first quarter this year, 29 percent of the money flowing into the association came from lawyers active in the two Metro East counties.
Those lawyers contributed $84,500, out of $291,395 statewide.
Asbestos attorney John Simmons of East Alton and the asbestos firm of Gori Julian in Edwardsville each gave the association $20,000, a figure only four Chicago firms matched.
Tom Keefe of Swansea and the Korein Tillery firm of St. Louis each gave $15,000, a figure that a single Chicago firm matched.
Former ITLA president Greg Shevlin, from the firm of Bruce Cook in Belleville, gave the group $7,500.
The Cates Mahoney firm of Swansea and Tor Hoerman of Edwardsville each gave $2,500, and David Galanti of Bethalto gave $2,000.
In the Chicago area, with about 15 times as many people, the association barely doubled the amount it raised from Madison and St. Clair.
From the rest of the state, home to millions, the association raised $12,475, about a seventh of the amount from Madison and St. Clair counties.
Money flowing from the association matters at key moments.
Seven of the eight Senators who defeated Rauner’s proposal in the Senate Judiciary received campaign contributions from the association in the last half of last year.
The association gave committee chairman Kwame Raoul of Chicago $1,050.
It gave $3,000 to John Mulroe of Chicago, $2,500 each to Michael Noland of Elgin and Ira Silverstein of Chicago, and $1,000 each to Bill Haine of Alton, Don Harmon of Oak Park, and Toi Hutchison of Steger.
The trial lawyers of Madison and St. Clair don’t expect much of their cash to bounce back to local candidates.
In the last half of last year, Chicago area candidates and Democratic committees received $304,650, or 87 percent of the association’s contributions.
Candidates from Madison and St. Clair received $13,000, four percent of the total.
Senator James Clayborne of Belleville claimed the lion’s share, at $5,500.
The association gave $2,500 to state Rep. Jerry Costello, $2,000 each to legislative candidates Dan Beiser of Alton and Cullen Cullen of Edwardsville, and $1,000 to state Rep. Eddie Jackson of East St. Louis.
Cooney’s term as president comes to an end as Perry Browder of the Simmons firm replaces him on June 5.