A good start

David Knowles Feb. 13, 2005, 1:12am

What do you call 25 asbestos lawsuits thrown out of a Madison County court because they have no relation to the county?

How about “A Good Start.” I’m sure you’ve heard the joke that allows you to insert just about any group or profession to arrive at the same answer. However, Judge Stack’s recent action is far from a joke to those of us looking for change in our courts.

While hundreds, if not thousands, of such cases remain in our courts, this action, which followed his similar questioning of three lawsuits late last fall, shows that maybe some of our local judges are indeed interested in cleaning up our broken system that’s made us the legal laughing-stock of the nation. We’ll not immediately jump for joy and pronounce an end to abuses of our courts, but certainly this is good news for the people of Madison County.

We’re all aware of our reputation as a “judicial hellhole” that first drew national attention in a couple of national magazines, then ABC’s “20/20,” followed by Wall Street Journal editorials, numerous other print editorials, and finally a visit by the President of the United States last month.

The sound rejection of the trial lawyers’ hand-picked candidate for the Illinois Supreme Court last November was the first indication that southern Illinois is ready for real reform. The removal by voters of a sitting judge from the appellate bench was even further evidence that indeed voters are sick of lawsuits and those that allow abuses of our court system to flourish.

While personal injury lawyers in their conference rooms have been toasting their fortunes with champagne for years, advocates for reform may now be seeing signs that perhaps the judiciary itself is considering change.

The state supreme court recently heard arguments for reform in a Chicago hearing and is yet to render any judgment on those proposals. The President vowed to make legal reform a priority in Washington, and we’ve already seen quick action in the Senate that may come to a head as early as this week.

The governor of Illinois took unexpected time in his State of the State Address to remark, albeit vaguely, of the need to address our medical liability crisis.

From all of these signs, it appears the voice of the people may have reached such a volume that our leaders at all levels of government have been forced - willingly or not - to hear the message. Hopefully they’re not just hearing the message. We’ll know in the coming months if they’re really getting the message.

It’s up to all of us to make sure they receive credit when credit is due and that they are held accountable when their actions fall far short of their rhetoric. I-LAW will be watching closely, along with a general public clamoring for change.

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