Price postmortem

The Madison County Record Dec. 18, 2005, 6:09am

All's well that ends well and it's water under the bridge, but be it resolved or behind us or whatever, Price v. Phillip Morris deserves more than clichés.

This was the lawsuit that made Madison County famous and Judge Nicholas Byron notorious. Around here at least, Price should never be forgotten.

If nothing else, it should serve as a ringing reminder of why those down-ballot judicial races matter. The people we elect reflect hard upon all of us.

In this case, a man we voted in by a landslide went on a wayward, reckless crusade that served to enrich Belleville plaintiff's attorney Steve Tillery while embarrassing our communities before the nation.

Byron awarded Tillery $1.7 billion (yes, that's supposed to be a "b") in legal fees. But worse than that, he let him hijack our Main Street courthouse, transforming it into an unelected overseer of the U.S. economy, with Tillery serving as All-Powerful Grand Master.

"This is another corporate giant which has once again been pardoned for its abhorrent behavior, " Tillery told the Washington Post last week.

Pardoned? By whom?

Tillery may like to play "make believe" that he's a prosecutor or the attorney general. But nobody authorized him to take on the tobacco industry on our behalf.

And nobody elected Byron to enable him.

In ordering dismissal of the case, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Rita Garman put it precisely.

"Our role is to apply the law as it exists, not to decide how the law might be improved," wrote Garman in the Court's majority opinion. "Plaintiffs and others who would seek to alter the conduct of tobacco companies must take their case to the General Assembly... or to the Congress."

Our circuit court judges are entrusted to dispense justice under state law, not use their powerful positions as a battering ram to push their own personal predilections.

Price is worth more than a footnote. Here's hoping it proves a cause of action-- and attention-- to the voters of Madison County.

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