It takes two to taint...

The Madison County Record Jul. 23, 2006, 7:05am

Kudos to Chief Judge Ann Callis for having the courage last week to finally put her most unbecoming colleague on ice.

Judge Nicholas Byron will still hear cases at our Edwardsville courthouse, he just won't reign anymore over its civil division, which he's led so menacingly for the past decade. Replacing Byron's angry, anti-business scowl with Judge Dan Stack's genial smile, Callis hopes, will improve "public confidence" that Madison County's courts are actually dispensing genuine justice, not just making inventive lawyers rich.

No doubt, a Stack-for-Byron trade is a positive step. But killing that overriding perception-- that the plaintiff's bar has hijacked the Third Circuit-- won't be as easy as judicial musical chairs. Callis needs to also deal with the problem lawyers; she needs to deal with guys like Jeffrey Millar.

Millar, a Lakin Law Firm class action specialist, is making headlines this week as it's been revealed that the plaintiff in one of his pending lawsuits has actually been dead for more than two years. The lawyer himself didn't tell the court that one Manual Hernandez of Granite City, helping Millar sue American Family Insurance over auto accident payouts, died of a heart attack in 2004. Rather, it was the defendants who did their own investigation, breaking the news to the court in March.

Did Millar know his "client" died, purposely keeping the news to himself for fear it would kill his class action? Or did he simply not know at all, because Hernandez was an uninterested, nominal placeholder completely uninvolved with the case?

Making a desperate pitch to save his lawsuit, replacing the deceased with someone living, breathing and aggrieved, Millar sort of admitted the latter in May. He explained that he learned of his client's death "subsequently."

That Millar wasn't tight with the Hernandez family, and that the plaintiff himself didn't have the fire of Erin Brockovich won't come as a surprise to readers of this newspaper.

Though they so desperately want us to believe it works the other way around, this lawsuit, like 99% of the class actions filed in Madison County, was filed for the lawyers, not the plaintiffs. Hernandez was a means to an end for Millar, whose behavior shows an obligation only to himself, and certainly not to his client.

Disposing of self-righteous, wayward judges, inevitably, becomes a job for voters. But taking on self-interested lawyers serial suing to strike it rich-- that's the responsiblity of the judges themselves. Here's hoping Ms. Callis takes this half of reform in Madison County just as seriously.

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