The mineral man

The Madison County Record Jul. 31, 2005, 11:17am

Meet Stephen Tillery, plaintiff’s attorney and now, thanks to Madison County’s 3rd Circuit Court, the State of Illinois’ all-powerful precious minerals market regulator.

That’s what Tillery has become, in effect, after his class action lawsuit against South African diamond maker DeBeers was approved to go forward by Judge George Moran last week.

Tillery charges the company with charging too much for its glittering little product. He says DeBeers “illegally… increase(s) the price of diamonds by controlling inventory.”

DeBeers' prices, as per Tillery, are against state law. But which law exactly, a capitalist pig might ask, sets state diamond prices?

Here at the home office we call it 'Tillery’s law,' otherwise known as the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Practices Act. It allows the St. Louis lawyer, flexing the power of Illinois’ justice system as bestowed upon him by Madison County’s judiciary, to judge as “unfair” prices in any number of markets as he deems fit.

Or, we might say, to judge as Tillery deems lucrative.

Before our class action hero took up the cause of saving money for Illinois diamond lovers, he carried the mantle of Illinois chain smokers. For that crusade against Philip Morris, alleging the company charged too much for Marlboro Lights, he stands to make a cool $1 billion in legal fees.

$1 billion is pretty steep—- but don’t expect Tillery to accuse himself of hiking prices unfairly. That charge is reserved for DeBeers or Philip Morris or Huck’s Convenience Stores, which sells cigarettes and is also in his crosshairs.

If this all seems as demented to you as it does to us, consider the vague “consumer fraud” statute that makes this all possible in the first place.

Such statutes used to be the domain of state regulators, who, answerable to the people as part of a governor’s administration, used them with care, caution, and respect, taking on truly illegitimate businesses.

Now as a tool of money hungry plaintiff’s lawyers, who strive for settlement riches rather than justice and are answerable to no one, consumer fraud laws have spawned what is in essence a legalized extortion racket that puts every company in Illinois at risk.

What price is “too much”? What business practice is “unfair”? How much should a diamond cost? How about a pack of Marlboro Lights?

In a free market economy and robust democracy, answers to questions like these don’t come easy. But they can and absolutely should come via the people—- not self-interested "consumer advocate" poseurs like Steve Tillery.

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