Avery goes to the polls

The Madison County Record Aug. 20, 2006, 3:52am

Exactly one year ago, now retired Illinois Supreme Court Justice Mary Ann McMorrow authored the majority opinion in Avery, the court decision over generic parts in car repairs. It has since turned the Metro-East's class action racket upside down.

McMorrow didn't mince words. In fact, her argument was so hard on the court she reversed-- Mt. Vernon's Fifth Appellate-- that two of her Supreme Court colleagues focused their dissent not on rebutting her points, but on upbraiding her tone. The Chicago Democrat was correct, they agreed, but why did she have to be so mean?

Maybe she was frustrated how a case with as many holes as Avery could have unanimously withstood appeal? Or perhaps it was the $1.06 billion verdict stuck on defendant State Farm Insurance, though no plaintiff actually suffered damages? Or was it the $348 million in legal fees for Southern Illinois lawyers that raised her ire? That's enough to build a dozen minor league baseball stadiums and still have plenty left over for peanuts and cracker jack.

As we fast enter an "off-year" campaign season that will have major ramifications upon courts like Mt. Vernon's, we're again reminded of what's really at stake when we elect judges. Avery represented a common sense blow against the culture of jackpot justice. But it never should have gone so far.

Appellate Courts are supposed to include the cream of the judicial crop-- higher courts performing to higher standards.

But when it okayed the verdict back in April 2002, the Fifth District seemed to relish at the prospect of sticking it to State Farm in such a big league way. Avery became the largest damage award ever upheld in Illinois judicial history, a badge of honor, sure to prompt plenty of smiles and back-slapping at the annual ITLA golf outing.

According to Justice McMorrow, the court's now-deposed ringleader Gordon Maag even spun the plaintiff's case in Avery a bit in his majority opinion, perhaps to construct a stronger one that would better withstand appeal. The Fifth wasn't rigorously analyzing--- they were cheerleading, seemingly corroborating the arguments of their ideological soulmates from the plaintiff's bar.

Responding to such reckless intellectual dishonesty from members of her own ilk, a stern lecture was the best McMorrow could do.

Maag knows that voters needn't show such restraint. We deserve more than a rubber stamp from our Appellate Courts. Don't forget it when you head to the polls this November.

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