Rep. Norwood takes Madison County to task on House Floor

The Madison County Record Oct. 8, 2004, 5:02am

Madison County is a hot topic in Washington, D.C. these days, thanks to a congressman from Georgia.

After calling for a federal investigation of Madison County on September 10, U.S. Rep. Charles Norwood (R-Georgia) is now on the floor of the U.S. House making his case as to why.

Here are Norwood's words in full, as spoken to Congress. He titled his speeches "Judges of Madison County", announcing them as a three-part series.

U.S. House of Representatives - September 29, 2004

The SPEAKER pro tempore: Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Norwood) is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. NORWOOD: Madam Speaker, the previous speaker makes me want to spend my next few minutes talking about another subject. I guess what I need to do is just totally say that I am sorry to be in the same room with some of those remarks, but I will stay on my subject tonight, because I rise tonight to begin a discussion of the ``number one Judicial Hellhole'' for 2003, as named by the American Tort Reform Association.

A year ago, prior to a long list of complaints I received from Georgia companies, I had never heard of the place known as Madison County, Illinois.

Now that has changed within the last year; and from the facts that I have heard, it seems that the judges of all people of Madison County regularly apply the civil laws in an unfair manner and violate the fundamental constitutional rights of defendants, particularly those that hail from other States.

One might wonder why a person from Georgia would be complaining about judges in Illinois. Well, the reason is they are affecting my constituents and the citizens of my State.

Madam Speaker, I could not sit on these complaints from good Georgia companies any longer. I sent a letter to Attorney General Ashcroft on September 10 asking for a formal investigation of Madison County.

Little did I know that this letter would send the attorneys of Madison County into complete temper tantrums. It should. They are guilty of lining their pockets at the expense of their clients. Yes, at the expense of their clients. And perhaps, Madam Speaker, one of the most guilty is Randall Bono.

Mr. Bono's law firm, Simmons-Cooper, generated over $1 billion in settlements in 2003. Somewhere between 30 to 40 percent of those settlements were kept by that firm. The public service that Mr. Bono has offered in his career includes two lawsuits against Ameritech. He walked away with $16 million. His clients each got a $5 phone card.

Contrary to the comments Mr. Bono made during his tantrum, my only motivation is to protect the companies of Georgia from frivolous lawsuits. Not only do those frivolous lawsuits triple car insurance rates for the people living in and around Madison County, they also send doctors fleeing from the region and, of the greatest concern to me, they force American companies to close up shops and take good American jobs overseas to avoid such harassments.

These kind of illegal shenanigans do cause outsourcing of jobs. We are all suffering, and for what? To line the pockets of lawyers like Bono?

The letter I sent to Attorney General Ashcroft is five and a half pages full of cases where defendants' constitutional rights to due process have been violated. I can take all night reviewing them, and I will outline them over the coming weeks. However, what I want to outline here is a possible reason why Madison County has become such a judicial hellhole.

Between 1980 and 2002, 90 percent of the contributions made to Madison County judicial candidates came from plaintiffs' lawyers. Judges have received tens of thousands of dollars in contributions, even in the years that they are unopposed. Several plaintiffs' firms with no Madison County office have contributed money to Madison County judicial campaigns.

Madam Speaker, I have a strong belief that when Attorney General Ashcroft looks into the situation in Madison County, he is going to find that the cases I have outlined are just the tip of the iceberg.

I take it very personally when judges try to legislate from the bench. I take it even more personally when they overreach their power and steal from good companies in Georgia.

This will be an ongoing thing, Madam Speaker. I will report to my colleagues every night of how we are doing in the hellhole of the United States, Madison County, where the judges and plaintiffs' lawyers are stealing from the people.

U.S. House of Representatives - September 30, 2004

The SPEAKER pro tempore: Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Norwood) is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. NORWOOD: Mr. Speaker, I come to the floor to once again discuss the judges of Madison County, Illinois, Part 2. It sounds like a book. Maybe it will be; maybe it should be.

 Last night I rose to address what the American Tort Reform Association calls America's number one judicial hellhole, also known as Madison County, Illinois. As I promised then, I am back to shine a little more light into that hole.

There is absolutely no doubt the ripple effect of frivolous civil lawsuits has been felt in every corner of this great country. When greedy trial lawyers get together to brainstorm which companies they can sue for millions and millions of dollars and put no less than 40 percent of their winnings in their own pocket, everyone loses; everyone, that is, except the trial lawyers. And one greedy trial lawyer who makes darn sure he never loses when it comes to lining his own pockets is Randall Bono from Madison County.

Mr. Bono has made a fair living doing business in this judicial hellhole on the backs of hardworking men and women. In fact, he was able to retire at the age of 42 from the millions of dollars that he won in asbestos civil lawsuits.

Madam Speaker, I may never know how Mr. Bono or other trial lawyers sleep at night knowing they have made their fortunes because of civil injustice being doled out in Madison County, Illinois, but I know as long as this hellhole remains open for business and scoundrels like Mr. Bono use it to take hard-earned money away from working folks, I will be in the well night after night in this House to stand up to say enough is enough.

I rise tonight specifically to address the First Amendment violations of the courts of Madison County, Illinois. That is right; with the court's authority in Madison County, trial lawyers have violated or at least chilled the exercise of first amendment rights held by members of the media and civil defendants.

I admit, Madam Speaker, it is a rare occasion for me to stand up and defend the media, but I simply cannot and will not let the courts of Madison County trash the rights our forefathers worked so hard to ensure for everybody.

If Members think the media or anyone else is safe from the wrath of Madison County, think again, Madam Speaker. Consider just a few of the cases outlined in my letter to Attorney General Ashcroft requesting a formal investigation of Madison County, Illinois and all their shenanigans.

In one effort to trash somebody's First Amendment rights in Madison County, a plaintiff's law firm made legal maneuvers in June 2004 to try and force defendants to share and discuss any associations with or support of groups promoting tort reform. At least one of these groups has filed a motion for protective order with the court because their feelings about tort reform have absolutely nothing to do with the case before them, and forcing them to share this information is an infringement of their first amendment rights.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized that the plaintiff firm's requests have no legal merit and their purpose is simply to intimidate and coerce these folks.

 In June 2003, the presidents of several major tort reform associations got slapped with subpoenas only after they appeared at a press conference to speak out against the outrageous litigation abuse in Madison County, Illinois. The subpoenas demanded that two of the individuals travel halfway across the country a month later to appear for a deposition in a product liability case. Once again, the clear purpose of these subpoenas was to harass and intimidate.

At an April 2004 public forum hosted by Washington University Law School in St. Louis, former U.S. Attorney General and former U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Griffin Bell said that counties like Madison County that are known for treating civil defendants unfairly are a stain on our system. Judge Bell called for a Federal investigation into the administration of civil injustice in Madison County, but again the wrath of the judicial hellhole was felt the very next day.

A Madison County judge retaliated by barring Judge Bell and his firm from appearing in their courtroom.

Madam Speaker, we will continue this discussion every night until somebody looks into the injustices of Madison County, Illinois.

U.S. House of Representatives - October 4, 2004

The SPEAKER pro tempore: Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Norwood) is recognized for 5 minutes.

 Mr. NORWOOD: Mr. Speaker, tonight is part three on the judges of Madison County, Illinois. As I promised last week, I am back on the floor tonight to talk about a place that has the dubious distinction of being America's number one ``judicial hellhole,'' Madison County, Illinois.

Mr. Speaker, they do not give out awards like the number one ``judicial hellhole'' from the American Tort Reform Association to just anyone. No, sir, only a court that continually misapplies civil laws, regularly violates fundamental constitutional rights of defendants, and caters to the interests of opportunistic trial lawyers can get a recognition like that.

Sadly, Mr. Speaker the Circuit Court of Madison County, Illinois, got this distinction the old-fashioned way; they earned it.

Tonight, Mr. Speaker, I want to continue a story I started last week on one of the ways they earned this awful award by trashing someone's first amendment rights. I stood on the floor last week, and I told the Members about the former Attorney General and U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Griffin Bell and his experience with Madison County. I told the Members that, at a public forum in April of this year, Judge Bell said that counties like Madison County are a serious ``stain on our system,'' meaning the judicial system. I also told the Members that Judge Bell called for an investigation into the administration of civil justice in Madison County. I finally told the Members, Mr. Speaker, that the wrath of the ``judicial hellhole'' was felt the very next day when Judge Bell and his firm were barred from appearing in their courtroom.

But as Paul Harvey might say, what I did not tell the Members, Mr. Speaker, was the ``rest of the story.''

Hold on to your hat, Mr. Speaker, because, not long after that outrageous act by the Madison County Court, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that a Madison County judge closed his courtroom to report his warning to cover a hearing about a fee dispute between prominent local trial lawyers. See, Mr. Speaker, as it turns out, the hearing was likely to include arguments over the lawyers' share of fees stemming from a very large class-action settlement, and for once, dollar amounts would likely be released regarding the sizable sums of money that these greedy trial lawyers stood to pocket.

So what happened? Well, you guessed it. The Madison County judge simply refused public access to the transcripts and exhibits from that hearing. Yet, once again, free speech lost, and trial lawyers won.

Mr. Speaker, the message from Madison County Circuit Court judges is simple: We have absolutely no respect for the First Amendment. Folks speaking out against our brand of civil injustice should expect intimidation and retaliation, and finally, when court is in session, no one is safe unless of course he is of their trial lawyers.

Mr. Speaker, last month, I wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Ashcroft asking him to formally investigate the judicial hijinks taking place in Madison County, Illinois. To my surprise, one of the Madison County trial lawyers, a Mr. Randall Bono, took time to ask in a local newspaper, why in the world would someone from Georgia ``have an interest'' in Madison County?

Mr. Speaker, that is pretty easy. When sleazy trial lawyers like Randall Bono retire when they are 42 years old, because they have pocketed millions of dollars through frivolous lawsuits, when a local court decides to hear cases from around the country it has no business hearing, when the local judicial system stops being a public trust and becomes a private trough for greedy trial lawyers like Randall Bono, when these and countless other injustices are allowed to continue anywhere in this great Nation, it is not a local issue, Mr. Speaker; it is a national issue. And this Congressman from Georgia, for one, has had enough.

Mr. Speaker, let me make this loud and clear to trial lawyers like Randall Bono and corrupt judges of Madison County: They may try to hush up, but I am coming after them, and I cannot and I will not be intimidated on these issues.

Want to get notified whenever we write about Madison County Circuit Court ?
Next time we write about Madison County Circuit Court, we'll email you a link to the story. You may edit your settings or unsubscribe at any time.

Organizations in this Story

Madison County Circuit Court
157 N Main St
Edwardsville, IL 62025

More News