She's our poster-lawyer

The Madison County Record Jun. 18, 2006, 8:19am

It's official. Swansea serial litigator Judy Cates is now at the helm of Illinois' largest plaintiff's group, the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association (ITLA).

That's Judy Cates, as in the attorney most recently famous for suing her own District 201 school board. She joined the board, opposed a proposed students' dress code, and the next thing everyone knew lawsuits were flying. Sue you, sue me, sue everybody.

The whole fiasco cost Belleville taxpayers more than $114,000, according to published reports. Cates, as part of a settlement with the district in January, demanded assurance that school board members wouldn't publicly discuss her lawsuit.

She doesn't like it when people talk about her. The more we learn about Cates, we can understand why.

A class action addict, Cates and lawyer Stephen Tillery were partners when their firm filed the lawsuit against Philip Morris that made Madison County famous. For her own biggest case, a failed $300 million swing at Allstate, Cates found her lead plaintiff by placing a newspaper ad.

In 2000, after Cates and her brother sued Publisher's Clearing House claiming false advertising and demanded $3 million of a proposed $10 million settlement for themselves, St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan likened the duo to "bank robbers." They sued McClellan for $1 million, demanding in discovery anything he'd written that was "in any way critical or mocking to lawyers or lawsuits" as well as any correspondence he'd had with anyone relating to the lawsuit.

Cates, apparently, wanted to know who else didn't like her.

Despite a career of dishing it out, steeped in legal combat, Cates clearly has thin skin. That's ironic, as is her ITLA welcome statement, professing Cates' dedication "to the preservation of those personal and civil rights envisioned by our founding fathers, enshrined in the Bill of Rights and adopted in our federal and state Constitutions."

Right. That's all of them, except for the First Amendment when you have a thought about Judy Cates.

More practically, we cannot imagine what would drive ITLA, so image-challenged these days, to elect such a caricature. Not that anyone there is listening, but it occurs to us that plaintiff's lawyers in this state suffer for a handful of really bad apples. They're the ones filing multi-million dollar suits over $1.62 and drumming up business by, well, placing ads in the newspaper.

These antics have outraged the public and, accordingly, notched down the trial bar's standing even among the most loyal of Democrat politicians. Illinois' medical malpractice reform passed last year thanks to a horde of trial lawyer-backed legislators and a trial lawyer governor. We'll call that Exhibit A.

The way we see it, refreshing the ITLA "bunch" is a challenge of self-examination. Either the trial lawyers police their own ethics, or outsiders will do the work for them.

Because we've seen from where she is coming, we know. Cates isn't up to the task.

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Illinois Trial Lawyers Association
401 W Edwards St
Springfield, IL 62704

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