The Madison County Record Sep. 4, 2006, 3:40am

Why doesn't he just say it?

Why doesn't lawyer Stephen Tillery, the would-be class action king of Madison County, just admit that he wants-- rather, he needs-- Judge Nicholas Byron to hear his each and every case before the Third Circuit?

In essence, that's what Tillery conceded with his challenge last week of Chief Judge Ann Callis' new rule that limits plaintiff's lawyers to just one judge substitution.

Callis was trying to stop prolific judge shopping in her Edwardsville court. But Tillery prefers to shop 'til he drops, or at least until he can avoid the most even-handed jurists on the Madison County bench, like Dan Stack or Don Weber.

The problem is that Tillery's dreamy lawsuits, which always frame him dramatically as a consumer crusader from Belleville battling the titans of industry, are plain indigestible by the court without a heavy dose of judicial activism. It takes audacity to file them, and it really takes audacity-- and a giant ego-- to let them proceed.

Byron qualifies on both counts.

He bought Tillery's laughable case versus Philip Morris, in which he argued the company duped smokers into thinking light cigarettes were actually healthy, hook, line, and sinker. Byron even turned it into a record-breaking (if overturned) $10.1 billion verdict. Tillery asked, and the judge didn't mind regulating tobacco for the entire country.

Furthermore, Byron reportedly has deep and great respect for Tillery-- folks at the courthouse tell us the judge thinks Tillery is a "genius."

That's all and well. But the law is the law. When lawyers beg to judge shop, it says to average folks that justice really isn't blind. It says that the law might be the law, but in Madison County, your fate really depends upon the judge you're assigned.

This is a terrible message to send.

We applauded Judge Callis' move to limit intra-court judge shopping at the time, and we encourage her to aggressively defend her position against Tillery's offensive.

Our justice system is supposed to serve the interests of all of us. No matter how smart they think they are, the citizens with the law degrees don't deserve special privileges.

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