This Was More Than A Referendum On Medical Malpractice Reform

Ed Murnane Nov. 13, 2004, 2:40am

Illinois doctors and hospitals, who rose to a higher level of political support and activity than has been seen in many years, perhaps ever, can be forgiven if they portray last Tuesday's Supreme Court election as a "referendum on medical malpractice." Even some Southern Illinois political leaders have described the historic election that way.

But the fact is that Tuesday's solid victory for Judge Lloyd Karmeier of Washington County was a resounding rejection by Southern Illinois voters of the corrupt and flawed judicial system that has grown in Madison and St. Clair Counties and thrived for years, long before doctors began leaving the area because of escalating insurance costs.

The medical malpractice crisis certainly played a major role and doctors and other health care providers demonstrated an outstanding commitment to the cause.

When was the last time you had a doctor -- in scrubs or a lab coat and with a stethoscope -- knock on your door and distribute literature on behalf of a candidate?

It doesn't happen, but it did last weekend.

And when was the last time you received a letter from your doctor -- not a bill -- encouraging you to vote for a candidate for Supreme Court Justice?

It happened thousands of times during the last two weeks.

Doctors and other health care providers deserve immense credit for the effort they put into the campaign.

But it was so much more than medical malpractice.

This was a referendum on the quality of justice provided to the citizens of Southern Illinois.

This was about years of abuse in a judicial system that had become the plaything of local lawyers and judges, primarily from Madison and St. Clair counties.

This was about a judicial system that has brought embarrassment and scorn to a region of Illinois that doesn't deserve it; a judicial system referred to as a "judicial hellhole," a judicial system that is blamed for the low standing of Illinois among other states in a survey of "legal fairness."

This was about forum shopping and venue abuse. It was about too many class action suits that don't belong there and too many asbestos suits.

This was about arrogance, the arrogance of a Randy Bono telling former US Attorney General Griffin Bell "you don't know what you're talking about" and the arrogance of Judge Nicholas Byron "banning" Griffin Bell's lawfirm from Madison County.

This was about a judicial environment that sees subpoenas issued to four tort reform leaders for speaking out against abuse; it was about a restraining order blocking a non-profit, non-political organization from broadcasting non-political advertisements.

This was about political operatives for a judge -- Appellate Judge Gordon Maag -- digging through the trash of a State Senator, of digging into personal backgrounds and legal files of supporters of Judge Maag's opponent and spreading them around; of operatives intimidating the former wife and daughter of a campaign worker for his opponent.

This was about the greed of the plaintiffs' lawyers who make Madison and St. Clair counties their home field. It was about the greed that results in a judge awarding $1.7 billion in legal fees to an attorney who happens to be one of his campaign contributors.

And this was about Gordon Maag, who gave a face to what is wrong with the system; a product of the system and a symbol of its failures. Voters rejected him for the Supreme Court and, in booting him out of his Appellate Court seat, added an exclamation point, almost as if saying, "How dare you do this to our system?"

And this was about Lloyd Karmeier, a man of decency, integrity and fairness whom the residents of the Fifth District have given the challenge of starting the repair process on a broken system.

He's up to the task.

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