ILAW director has no plans to stop educating

Ann Knef Oct. 21, 2004, 10:09am

The director of a southern Illinois watchdog group dedicated to pulling the plug on frivolous lawsuits said he has no plans to cease educating voters on lawsuit abuse, even though a judge in Williamson County called for the group’s radio ads to end.

“I haven’t been served with papers, but I will abide by the letter of the law,” said Steve Schoeffel, director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch (I-LAW). “I’m only aware of the situation because of various press reports.”

A lawsuit filed recently in Williamson County by a personal injury lawyer working with the Operating Engineers Local 318 of Marion, says I-LAW’s radio ads are in opposition of a “certain” Supreme Court candidate.

Williamson County Circuit Judge William Palmer issued a temporary restraining order calling for I-LAW to pull a radio ad that asks listeners which Illinois Supreme Court Justice candidate receives donations from personal injury lawyers.

Illinois Supreme Court candidate Lloyd Karmeier, a Washington County Circuit Court Judge, has been supported by business and pro-tort reform groups. Democratic candidate Gordon E. Maag, has received substantial funding from trial lawyers.

The radio ad campaign, launched earlier in the month, has already run its course anyway, Schoeffel said. “We only had a small budget to work with,” he said.

During the first week of October, Schoeffel toured southern Illinois communities distributing voter guides and towing a portable billboard emblazoned with the question, “Sick of Lawsuits?”

The billboard and the organization's website are still actively educating the public, Schoeffel said.

The radio ad was aired in various southern Illinois markets. Text of the ad includes:

“We’ve all seen the headlines about how the flood of frivolous lawsuits in the Metro East is closing doctors’ offices and driving many of our finest physicians away. Greedy personal injury lawyers have turned the Metro East into a haven for bad lawsuits...

“Now we all have a chance to cure the lawsuit epidemic. Personal injury lawyers have given out $2 million to Illinois Supreme Court candidates because they want their friends on the court…”

The ad did not directly name candidates Maag and Karmeier.

“This (lawsuit) is just another attempt at intimidation by trial lawyers to limit free speech,” Schoeffel said. “It now appears that the personal injury lawyers who have already twisted our courts into a notorious lawsuit mill will stop at nothing to try to protect their incredibly profitable personal playground.”

On Oct. 19, I-LAW issued a report calling personal injury lawyers funding the majority of Maag’s campaign as the “dirty dozen.”

The press release states that a “new wave of $100,000 checks from personal injury lawyers begs the question, ‘Is justice for sale?’”

“An analysis of the latest campaign finance reports shows that 20 prominent personal injury firms have given a whopping $2.5 million to various campaign committees which are funneling those big dollars into candidate Gordon Maag’s campaign,” Schoeffel stated in a press release.

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