Response to Anderson: Setting the record straight

The Madison County Record Sep. 9, 2004, 3:47pm

I read with great amusement the article by Stan Anderson general counsel for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Truth is a foreign language to the Chamber.

Mr. Anderson's first paragraph states that Madison County has more class action cases than any other county in America. This is not correct. There is no basis for this statement.

He goes on to state that most of cases have no connection to Madison County. 

Every case has a connection to Madison County or it gets dismissed or transferred.
Most often it is a Madison County citizen who is the representative plaintiff and is the one complaining of being defrauded by one of the Chamber's members.

Next, Anderson claims that the overwhelming majority of cases are nationwide class actions filed by out of state lawyers for acts that occurred outside Madison County.

All of the class actions are for Illinois class members, such as the Ameritech, Phillip Morris, RJR, and Brown and Williamson cases and deal with Illinois victims or Illinois corporations.

Most, if not, all of the class cases are filed by Madison or St. Clair County law firms, not out of state lawyers. If the fraud that is being claimed in these cases happened to a Madison county resident, then the act occurred in this county.

The claim by the Chamber that 99 % of the class members live outside the county is absurd. That statement could be said of any county in the country since 100% if the people do not live in any one county.

The claim that judges in Madison County certify classes differently than elsewhere is also deceptive.

Class action cases are certified all over the country. Some states have weak laws to protect consumers and some states have strong laws to protect consumers. Illinois is one of the states that believe Americans should not be ripped off by consumer fraud or have their pensions stolen.

Anderson talks about the class action against a phone company. This was the Ameritech case, something I know about as I was the presiding Judge.

The settlement was not for one $5 phone card but three $5 phone cards plus 42 million dollars in cash, half-price installation of a new phone line, and $8 million dollars in mandatory training for the solicitors that were alleged to have signed up customers for a service they did not order.

The total value of the settlement was over $150 million. Attorney fees were not $16 million, but only 1/3 of the cash of $42 million or about $13 million.

This was a figure agreed upon by the phone company without objection by anyone.

Next, Anderson turns his deception to the asbestos front, another area I am familiar with since I have dealt with asbestos disease cases since 1986.

The number of asbestos cases has jumped 800,000 % since 1985.  That is because prior to 1986, Illinois lawyers and workers were unaware of the asbestos diseases and hazards.

Madison County is 25th in the nation, by county, in mesothelioma deaths. Mesothelioma is a rare form of terminal cancer caused exclusively by asbestos.

Illinois had more employees in the asbestos trade than any other state in the country. Illinois had the largest payroll in the asbestos business than any other state in the country.

Illinois was 2nd in the country with the most asbestos manufacturing plants. Corporate giants such as Caterpillar, Sears, Borg Warner, John Deere, John Crane, US Gypsum, and Kentile, purveyors of this deadly poison, all are Illinois based corporations.

The higher courts have described the Madison county courts as "expeditious and efficient" in the handling of asbestos cases.

These are facts that the Chamber does not want the people to know, for the same reason many of the Chamber's members hid the hazards of asbestos from the American worker and the federal government since the 1920's!

Anderson complains next about the $250 million verdict awarded against U.S. Steel last year in Madison County. Again, I know this case well as I was the lead trial counsel.

The verdict against U.S. Steel was for $50 million that was awarded to the victim of mesothelioma after being exposed in the 1970's to levels of dust counted at over 1 billion particles per cubic foot, 20 times higher than was allowed even as far back as the 1940's.

The jury found that U.S. Steel acted with willful and wanton disregard to Roby Whittington's safety. 

In the interest of the public good they also awarded punitive damages in the amount of $200 million, so as to punish U.S. Steel and deter other employers from like conduct. 

That money, as announced by Nicholas Byron, the trial judge in the case, would have gone not to the lawyers or even the victim but to the state of Illinois.

The jury further found that John Crane, a co-defendant in the case and an Illinois corporation, was not responsible for Mr. Whittington's terminal cancer in spite of U.S. Steel's effort to blame them for his disease.

Moreover, the case did have connections to Illinois because Mr. Whittington was exposed to asbestos during home remodeling work in the state.  U.S. Steel did not ask to have the case removed from Madison County, nor did any other defendant in the case.

Anderson's obvious ignorance of the facts of this case is excusable because he is not licensed to practice law in Illinois, has never practiced law in Illinois, nor ever been to Madison County, Illinois.

The "mistakes" he makes as to the facts regarding the court system are a concerted effort by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to jury tamper and intimidate the court into ignoring the rights of workers and consumers.

Speaking of jury tampering, Anderson complains of interrogatories given to the defendants in the asbestos litigation as an attempt to stifle free speech.

For the last three years residents of Madison county have been bombarded with out of town front organizations issuing press releases, holding press conferences, and advertising on TV and radio how bad we are.

The Chamber and its front organizations have hired Washington lobbyists and publicists to paint a picture of this evil, corrupt, rural county in southern Illinois. Rest assured no one wants to "stifle" rights to free speech, even when it consists of lies and distortions.

But you cross the line when you attempt to influence a jury with those same lies and distortions.

The president of the Illinois chamber told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that the purpose of the multimedia blitz was to "educate the jury pool".

Perhaps Mr. Anderson and his hatchet men should read Illinois law 720 ILCS 5/32-4 "a person who, with intent to influence any person who he believes has been summoned as a juror,… communicates, directly or indirectly, with such juror …commits a class 4 Felony". 

Jurors should be educated in the courtroom where they hear the facts and the law from both sides to an issue before they decide a case.

The Chamber's media blitz is nothing less than jury tampering and the Illinois Chamber's president has confessed to it. These interrogatories are designed to find out if the parties to the litigation are participants to this activity and conspired to deny cancer victims a fair trial.

Finally, we get to the issue of medical malpractice.

There is no dispute that the doctors of Illinois are getting raped by the price of malpractice insurance, but this problem exists throughout Illinois not just in Madison County.

In fact, doctors are complaining about malpractice nationwide as evidenced by President Bush's acceptance speech and the efforts of Congress to pass nationwide malpractice reform.

Anderson ignores that Madison County accounts for 4% of the malpractice payments statewide while simultaneously accounting for 4% of the Illinois population. No one can ever point to a specific example of the courts or juries awarding an unfair judgment against a doctor in Madison County. Anderson fails to point out that the doctors win 85% of the cases that are tried in Madison County.

Malpractice reform is an emotionally charged issue.

No one wants to see the doctors suffer outrageous premiums or leave Illinois. No one wants the victims of malpractice to be a financial burden on their families or the taxpayers when they have to go on public aid. Reform is necessary but not just to the legal system.

Reform needs to include the insurance industry who spend 46 cents of every premium dollar paid by the doctors on profit and overhead leaving 54 cents for the victim.

Doctors need to be paid for their services promptly by the insurance companies and the state for the medical services they provide.

Doctors and hospitals both need to "fess up" when mistakes are made and explain what and why things went wrong for the patient.

Doctors need to improve their bedside manner and treat patients like real people, not just revenue sources.

The state and the medical community need to do a better job of getting rid of "bad" doctors, those who have multiple claims. Five percent of the "bad" doctors account for over 50% of the claims paid by the insurance industry.

Lawyers, doctors, insurance and the legislature need to devise a way to divert cases from the legal system through the use of pre-lawsuit mediation. Blaming the court system in Madison county is ridiculous. During the four years I served as a judge I tried one malpractice case and that was against a dentist, resulting in a defense verdict.

Finally, Anderson pulls out the old per-household cost of litigation. Silly trick.

Anderson wants to blame the victims of fraud, negligence, and willful conduct for the cost of the defendant's wrongdoing.

That is like blaming the stockholders of Enron for the actions of management or blaming Mr. Whittington for getting cancer caused by the willful conduct of U.S. Steel.

President George W. Bush stated the cost of litigation nationwide is $200 billion per year.

According to the Center for Justice and Democracy, corporate crime alone costs the economy $1.5 trillion dollars a year. That’s over $35,000 per year for a family of four.

Enron, Worldcom, Tyco, Adelphia, Arthur Anderson, Halliburton, and the pharmaceutical industry, just to name a few, have all been accused of fraud, theft, or embezzlement costing consumers far more than what little justice Madison County can rectify.

Mr. Anderson should just confess that he and the Chamber of Commerce don't like Madison County because the courts and juries are willing to hear complaints against their members, decide the case based upon the law and the evidence, and, if appropriate, hold them accountable for fraud, abuse, or neglect. 

The Chamber and all of their phony front organizations don't like being held accountable when they poison our workers, steal our pensions, pollute the environment, and defraud consumers.  

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