ICJL President Ed Murnane
If this year's measure is the mark of an emerging trend, optimism may abound by critics of the Madison County Circuit Court.
In a review of lawsuits filed in the court's civil law division, a significant decrease in cases over $50,000 have been filed year-to-date over previous years.
Calling it a trend, however, may be premature, according to Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL) President Ed Murnane.
"It's difficult to measure trends in one year. Certainly one can see peaks and valleys or blips on the radar," he said.
"There are a lot of reasons why (the numbers) could be down,” Murnane stated.
A peak was reached in 2003, when 2,102 total cases (over $50,000) were filed, including asbestos and class action suits. That compares to 1,350 suits filed so far this year.
While last year there were 106 class action suits filed in Madison County, only 69 have been filed so far in 2004.
"It may be premature to call it a trend, however, I certainly hope that it's true," Murnane added.
"I think that the increased attention to the judicial system in Madison County eventually was bound to have an impact. Maybe the high level of attention on the judicial system, the medical malpractice issue, the Supreme Court race--maybe that in part is contributing to the decline.”
Since 1999 when 1,246 cases were filed, there has been a steady increase in the amount of cases filed in Madison County, with the exception of 2002 when only 1,729 cases were filed.
In 2000, there were 1,313 suits filed and in 2001 there were 1,876 filed.
"It could also be that plaintiff's lawyers in Madison County, as well as attorneys across the country, may think the courts here are not as friendly as they were accustomed to, and they may be looking somewhere else," Murnane said.
Neighboring St. Clair County has also seen a slight decrease in cases filed. In 2003, a total of 831 cases were filed in St. Clair County Circuit Court, and as of Dec 8. there had been 698.