Madison County drives Rule 225 debate

Jeff Gelber Jan. 24, 2005, 10:16am

Testifiying before the State Supreme Court's Rules Committee, Illinois State Bar Association President Oly Bly Pace, III conceded that Madison County's Circuit Court was the "gorilla" in the room.

But he couldn't bring himself to explain why.

"I cannot tell what problem it is that (we're) supposed to be addressing," said Pace, a plaintiff's attorney from Sterling, Ill.

Themselves, Pace and some 20 other plaintiffs attorneys trudged to Chicago on Monday to address and oppose "Rule 225," a proposal that would change the way state judges handle class action lawsuits.

The measure, among other things, would require state judges to consider whether a class action is the best method for resolving a controversy before allowing it.

That Madison County's court has been dubbed a "judicial hellhole" for allowing the most class actions in the U.S.-- nearly 200-- over the past 24 months was duly noted.

Rule 225 backers argued that the reputation of Illinois' judicial system is at stake.

"Our state has received a black eye nationally," said Steven Pflaum, an attorney with Chicago-based McDermott, Will, & Emery. "It has tainted the perception. We do have a problem-- a serious problem-- in our state. And we do need help."

Pflaum said Rule 225 is modeled after federal court rules as well as those of 38 other states.

He and his supporters were seriously outnumbered at the hearing, set a block from the Cook County Courthouse in the heart of Chicago's Loop.

"If these cases cannot be brought, citizens aren't going to get justice," said opponent and Naperville plaintiff's attorney Shawn Collins. "I don't try cases in Madison County, but everywhere else I don't see the problem."

And everywhere else includes Chicago, where the preponderance of people and power on the Rules Committee and the Supreme Court itself reside. That's why Rule 225-- opposed by the Illinois and Chicago Bar Associations-- is not expected to pass.

"But for Madison County's problems, we wouldn't be considering this," said panel member and Chicago Appellate Court Judge Allen Hartman, who went on to call the 3rd Circuit Court a "debacle."

"The squeaky wheel gets the grease," said Hartman. "Is this axel in Madison County going to require us to pass a rule that really isn't for the rest of the state?"

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