Hurrah, Judge Stack

The Madison County Record Oct. 8, 2004, 5:26am

He’s new at this, but Judge Daniel J. Stack is making serious sense.

Issued last week, his brief but candid order did much more than tell ragin’ Cajun Paul Palmer to pursue his eighty asbestos lawsuits in a courthouse closer to his Louisiana home.

In nine pages, Judge Stack did his best to bring Madison County’s surreal asbestos situation back down to earth. The recently appointed asbestos judge tried to, finally, put things in perspective for all of us.

Stack aptly noted that, if all 1,500 or so asbestos lawsuits currently pending in Madison County were to go to trial, the court could in no way handle it.

As Stack put it, those trials would hoist an “astronomical burden” upon local taxpayers.

That’s an understatement. Holding 1,500 trials would be more impossible than “astronomical.”

Then, in rebutting the suggestion by Palmer’s attorneys that, while Madison County would not be a convenient venue for trial, it would indeed be a just peachy place for this Louisiana plaintiff to settle, Stack whacked it out of the park.

“It is not the function of the courts to make money,” he wrote. “It is the function of the courts to administer justice”

And justice is not served, Stack wrote, when judges push defendants to settle because trials are too expensive for the local courts.

It has gone unsaid until now, but in Madison County, settlement has been the only practical option for a system overwhelmed.

Stack’s position is remarkable when compared with the record of Judge Nicholas Byron, his asbestos predecessor. Before stepping down over the summer, he ruled the docket with the opposite view.

Byron’s pro-settlement bias created what Stack dubbed the “cash cow,” generating millions in asbestos lawsuit filing fees for the county.

Defense attorneys would say Byron’s approach also generated little justice.

We’re hopeful Judge Stack’s finally will.

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