#3 News Story: The Asbestos shuffle-- Byron to Kardis to Stack

The Madison County Record Dec. 28, 2004, 5:54am

Judge Nicholas Byron

Judge Phillip J. Kardis

Judge Daniel J. Stack

Madison County's massive & notorious asbestos docket underwent major leadership changes in 2004.

After nearly 10 years at the helm, Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron handed the docket to Judge Philip Kardis. Kardis’ fist day in court was to be Sept. 10, but it never came to be.

Judge Daniel Stack replaced Kardis as Madison County's "Asbestos Judge" before Kardis ruled on a single case.

Although many asbestos lawyers saw a switch coming, it came as something of a surprise.

Byron's harsh dismissal of former U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell from his courtroom, preceded his departure.

Byron also came under heavy fire from pro-business and industry groups who believed his decisions and demeanor have favored plaintiffs in the multi-billion dollar asbestos litigation. In 2003, an Indiana man won $250 million from U.S. Steel in Byron's court, believed to be the largest single individual verdict ever awarded in asbestos litigation.

In 2003, there were 953 asbestos lawsuits filed in Madison County, including more than 400 cases involving mesothelioma, the most serious asbestos-related illness. According to some estimates, Madison County is home to 25 percent of U.S. asbestos litigation.

Few of those cases are likely to go to court. Since 1996, Madison County has seen only four asbestos trials.

Since his appointment in 1989, Kardis has presided at the Madison County Circuit Court’s Granite City courtroom.

“Phil is a very fair and honest judge,” said one lawyer, speaking on condition that his name not be used. “He is what Madison County needs.”

Madison County voters agreed with that assessment in 2002, when Kardis won retention with more than 75 percent of the vote. That victory was assisted at least in part by a series of 30-second television commercials urging Metro-East voters to retain Kardis, Byron and Judge Edward Ferguson.

The three judges, appointed together in 1989, paid for the ads out of a joint campaign war chest totaling more than $150,000. Kardis’ contributions came in part from a $500-per-plate fundraising dinner hosted by personal-injury attorney Mike Bilbrey at the Bilbrey Farms bed and breakfast outside of Edwardsville.

But not all the contributions came from the plaintiffs’ bar--the judges asked for, and received, money from the Madison County Republican Central Committee.

The judges’ fundraising, unprecedented in area judicial-retention elections, was designed to help them counter attacks by corporate interest groups taking aim at Madison County’s reputation as a class-action hub.

Stack, most recently a criminal judge, may have been more acceptable to defense attorneys if only because he has no track record in large class actions.

Stack, a native of Granite City and a resident of Highland, has served as circuit court judge since January 2003, when the circuit judges chose him to replace retiring Judge P.J. O'Neill.

Before that he had served as an associate judge since 1986--with an 18-month hiatus after circuit judges voted not to retain him in 1995, then reappointed him in early 1997.

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