Following the money

The Madison County Record Jan. 9, 2005, 3:55pm

If Madison and St. Clair plaintiff’s attorneys are puzzled or miffed by all the attention they’re getting, they should take another look at their bank account balances. Then make a mental note.

Big money begets big attention, particularly when it is earned in little places.

"If you see a team of trial lawyers spending a lot of time in the Collinsville area, you can be pretty sure they're not looking for horseradish,” said President George W. Bush last week, drawing a laugh while preaching to the choir here at the Gateway Convention Center.

Bush was also crystallizing the issue for everyday people who believe in a civil justice system and would fight to help the injured get their due but wonder-- why do the lawyers have to get so rich?

The oddity of so many millionaire lawyers residing in an out-of-the-way place like the Metro-East is lost on those lawyers themselves. But the public is catching on, and what it sees is as incredible as it is unbelievable.

Madison County's poster-children aren't just Stephen "Philip Morris" Tillery and Randy Bono. They're guys like thirty-something Godfrey plaintiff’s attorney T. Evan Schaeffer, an outspoken critic of Bush and tort reform.

Schaeffer claims “junk lawsuits” don’t really exist. He's also set to collect $940,000 next month in a Madison County Circuit Court class action settlement with SBC. (Consumers, if they ask, get $10 phone cards)

Why and how does a lawyer deserve $940,000 for filing a lawsuit like this? What did he do? Why was this earned? How does society benefit?

These are the great mysteries driving this great public debate.

To be sure, lawyers like Schaeffer think of themselves as latter-day Robin Hoods, proclaiming that they are necessary to protect consumers against the misdeeds and malfeasance of Corporate America. But they wouldn’t bring the cases if they couldn’t get the big payday.

In places like Madison County, plaintiff's lawyers are most concerned with protecting not their clients but a civil justice system that has made them incredibly wealthy.

This is not about allowing or disallowing justice. It has nothing to do with protecting the vulnerable, punishing the vicious, or helping the needy. Plaintiff’s attorneys aren’t in this business because they think SBC charged too much or Philip Morris sold too many cigarettes.

They’re in it for the money—their money.

Lawyers file lawsuits for the same reason entrepreneurs start-up businesses. They’re looking to get rich.

And in Madison and St. Clair Counties, they too often do.

That’s why President Bush came to Collinsville last week. And that’s why our area trial lawyers will remain in the national media bulls-eye until something changes at those Metro-East county courthouses.

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