The judge who wasn't there

The Madison County Record Jan. 28, 2006, 5:15am

Madison County's judges don't like it when they're characterized as tools of the local plaintiff's bar.

But the next time one of them complains about it to us, we'll direct them to The Record reporter Steve Korris' story this week about the lonely Don Weber.

In his four months on the job, the Third Circuit's only Republican judge has been avoided like the plague. Korris reports that the hottest trial lawyer hotshots in the Metro-East are doing all they can to move their cases out of Weber's courtroom. Which begs the question: what are they so afraid of?

Why do these lawyers avoid Judge Weber? And why-or how--- do they think a Democrat judge will handle their cases so differently?

The conventional wisdom of many folks reading this will no doubt be that the answers are just too obvious. For big dollar class action, medical malpractice, or toxic tort cases, there's just too much money at stake to go with Judge Weber when better "trusted" alternatives are still available.

The problem this "substitution blitz" poses Weber's image-conscious fellow judges as well as our oft-maligned local courts system is that it lives up to critics' expectations.

Are Judges Nicholas Byron, Andy Matoesian, George Moran and Dan Stack more appealing to plaintiff's lawyers just because? Or are they more appealing than Weber because they are Democrats, and he's not.

We understand that trial lawyers and the Democratic party have dominated politics in Madison County for decades. But we also know that this isn't San Francisco.

In November 2004, when Republican Lloyd Karmeier won the honor of representing Southern Illinois on the State Supreme Court, he did so by winning the support of tens of thousands of crossover voters. Those Democrats believed our justice system, long controlled by a single party, was in serious need of balance.

Many of them live here in Madison County, obviously, where Karmeier incredibly earned 60,956 votes to Gordon Maag's 57,158.

That's right. Over the will of Madison County's vaunted Democratic machine, voters chose the Republican Karmeier. They chose Republican Don Weber.

That local plaintiff's lawyers, looking out for their own best interests, don't choose Weber now is their legal prerogative. But we figured our sitting judges would be above that.

They don't have to stand up for the lone Republican amongst them.

They don't have to give fodder to their detractors, either.

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