Knowing the law is the order for 'First Tuesday Club'

Ann Knef Feb. 10, 2005, 6:30am

Edwardsville attorney Tad Armstrong in front of a certificate recognizing his entry into the "Million Dollar Club" of jury awards.

The Madison County Courthouse is where you might typically find Tad Armstrong going about his business. But after hearing enough misinformed coffee shop “trash” talk, the Edwardsville personal injury attorney was inspired to take up law in another forum.

“I’d hear people talking about the law and they’d be 180 degrees from correct,” said Armstrong. “I’d also hear that it was my all fault that lawyers didn’t do a better job educating the public about the law.

“I took that as a challenge.”

At the beginning of February, Armstrong launched The First Tuesday Club. It meets at 7 p.m. at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Edwardsville to discuss law. Study involves reading Supreme Court opinions and engaging in an interactive “Socratic Method” exchange. Questions are posed to participants and they are challenged to think an act as legal scholars.

“The Socratic Method makes people think about ‘why’,” he said.

In an introductory “syllabus,” Armstrong writes: “Our purpose is not to discuss what the law should be….rather, what the Constitution says the law is; how the Constitution has been interpreted by the Supreme Court and why; and how the Constitution should be interpreted.”

Debuting with an impressive 55 charter members, the group’s first discussion centered on some Constitution basics, such as what is the source of our law and what distinguishes our Constitution from others?

While Armstrong strives to achieve a “really relaxed” atmosphere in the group’s monthly meetings, “of major importance,” he says, is to be “bold” in discussions.

Armstrong said he hopes interest in the subject of law will sustain over time and that discussions “never end.”

“That’s why we call it a club,” he said.

At its next meeting the club will tackle religion clauses of the First Amendment, and ponder thought-provoking questions like, “What do you think the Constitution says about religion?” and “Is prayer in school permitted?”

“Religion had so much to do with the adoption of our Constitution. It was the first in the Bill of Rights, so it will be a top priority” for discussion, Armstrong said.

Course material, he says, is planned months in advance. Even though Armstrong is preparing discussions three months ahead of time, studying the Constitution may dominate discourse well into the near future.

And, after the group gets settled, Armstrong said he may invite guest lecturers—perhaps congressmen, judges and the like—to lead relevant discussions.

Further “down the road” he also may entertain a discussion of “what is a frivolous lawsuit?”

On the subject, Armstrong shared that he doesn’t believe in the “myth” that Madison County is a plaintiff’s “haven.”

“I don’t have an agenda to confront that reputation (in the club),” Armstrong said. “I don’t have an agenda other than gaining knowledge. The only agenda is that people know what they’re talking about before they criticize.”

Armstrong, a 1976 graduate of University of Illinois School of Law, says that even though he has practiced law for nearly 30 years at the Armstrong Law Offices, he continues to be fascinated by it.

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