Chief Judge Callis reins in judge shopping

Ann Knef May 3, 2006, 6:46am

One of the first orders of business for Madison County's new chief judge was to rein in "judge shopping" tactics employed by class action lawyers.

Chief Judge Ann Callis has ordered that class plaintiffs in cases filed in the Third Circuit be allowed only one substitution of judge as of right.

In Illinois any party to a lawsuit can substitute a judge once without cause.

"Further Motions for Subustitution of Judge as of Right will NOT be allowed," states Callis' May 2 order, issued on her second day as chief.

In March, the Record reported how attorney Stephen Tillery was able to get two "free shots" in removing judges from a proposed class action lawsuit against American Equity Mortgage and ABN Amro.

He accomplished this by adding new plaintiffs and filing a substitution motion for them like the one he had filed for the original plaintiff.

In January, the Record began reporting the plight of Circuit Judge Don Weber, who after three months on the job, had 35 big cases yanked from his court by plaintiff's lawyers.

Weber was appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court in October to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Circuit Judge Phillip Kardis.

To date, Weber -- the only Republican judge in Madison County presiding over civil cases -- has been bumped off a total of 114 cases. Not all, but many have been class action cases.

In his strongest act of self defense, Weber has asked the Fifth District appellate court if a party can waive the right to free substitution through misconduct.

He was prompted by the controversial actions of attorney Thomas Maag, who avoided Weber and sought an associate judge to sign an emergency order, even though Weber was assigned to the case.

Weber asked the court if a party could waive the right to free substitution of a judge through improper judge shopping.

Weber wrote that Maag employed "hallway procedure" to avoid the assigned judge (Weber) and seek out an associate judge (Barbara Crowder).

Weber wrote, "The Court further finds that the Plaintiffs' attorney is using the automatic change of judge statute for improper 'judge shopping.'"

What kind of impact will Callis' out-of-the-gate order have on the county's harshly criticized judicial system?

By and large, the order affects older class action cases meandering through the system.

There have been no class action lawsuits filed in Madison County in 2006.

Glancing at Madison County figures, in 2005, a total of 46 such cases were filed -- most of them, 36, were filed before the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA) was signed into law.

It was quite another story leading up to the enactment of CAFA.

In 2002, there were 77; in 2003, 106 and in 2004, 84.

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