From the peanut gallery

The Madison County Record Mar. 27, 2005, 3:08am

Dirty money?

Madison County Chief Judge Edward Ferguson has banned smoking within 150 feet of the new Criminal Justice Center on St. Louis Street.

Some disrespect, as Illinois smokers are indirectly responsible for paying for the $2.2 million building.

The county used part of its $3.1 million-and-counting Philip Morris circuit court bond interest windfall to pay for the gleaming CJC. The cigarette giant was forced in 2003 by Madison County Judge Nicholas Byron to post a $6 billion bond while the Illinois Supreme Court hears appeal of his gigantic $10.1 billion verdict.

With that verdict, Byron convicted Philip Morris of misleading Illinois light cigarette smokers into buying a product they thought was “healthier.”

Guys like Byron and Ferguson, whose 150-foot ban is a caricature of caution, wish the world would stop smoking. But consider that if it did, Philip Morris would have no way of heaping millions in cash on us for bond interest, much less fulfill its verdicts and settlements.

Madison County taxpayers benefit from ‘Big Tobacco’ on more than one front. As part of the so-called ‘master settlement’ by state attorneys general with tobacco companies, the State of Illinois has collected $1.5 billion since 2000. That’s money we don’t have to borrow or raise through taxes.

And the state’s due to collect six-times that before the payments are said and done, in the year 2025. So long as people keep smoking, that is.

Give credit where credit is due and thank a smoker this week.

Sounding off

Speaking of the CJC, Dicta’s been getting an earful from courthouse folks who aren’t fans of the place.

One veteran legal eagle told us last week that the new building was “a monumental waste of money,” adding that he didn’t publicly criticize the project for fear of incurring the wrath of the “vengeful” Judges Ferguson and Byron.

The CJC was Ferguson and Byron’s brainchild.

And hey, we’re just the messenger here.

In other news, Ferguson plans on running for another year term as Chief Judge so he can “finish projects” he’s working on. Word is he’ll be approved with no problem.

Waiting game

George Argus, a 54-year-old loving, family man from Cahokia died in Belleville Memorial Hospital's Emergency Department on Feb. 12.

He was awaiting admission to a St. Louis hospital for a tricky, life-saving esophageal operation which could only be performed by a specialist--a rarity in Belleville.

That’s the real impact of Southern Illinois’ medical malpractice insurance crisis.

While Springfield stalls, Missouri to our west is ushering in new tort reforms.

The measures, which will be signed into law by Republican Governor Matt Blunt on Tuesday, include a lowering of the state’s cap on non-economic damages in medical liability cases from $450,000 to $350,000 and joint and several liability reform.

More generally, the new Missouri law limits bond appeals in civil cases to $50 million (not $6 billion) and would stop forum shopping, requiring that lawsuits be brought in the county where the “action occurred.”

Better for them. Inspirational to us, we hope.

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