Better things to do

The Madison County Record Oct. 8, 2006, 3:54am

Judicial politics are a funny thing. Duty calls uniquely here in the Metro East, so voters must oblige. But the truth of it is, most of us really don't want to care about our judges-- who they are or what they do-- even a bit.

Most real people prefer to consume their courts seen, but not heard. We want to take for granted that our jurists respect their bounds; that lawyers take ethics seriously; that justice in our county is being served.

While taking in a new TV ad on the subject, running currently on stations across Southern Illinois, we pondered those quieter days. You barely remember them-- before jackpot justice became a catch-phrase; when a complaint over $5 would have been summarily laughed out of the courtroom; when lawyers didn't solicit plaintiffs to fit their own homemade grievances; when judges operated in virtual anonymity, and the people were all the better for it.

The campaign is called "Faces," paid for by our parent, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform. The ads feature testimonials from actual Illinois small business owners who live in fear of being frivolously sued into oblivion. Sound alarmist? If you're a reader of our weekly story lineup it shouldn't.

Consider that the money and time to repel this litany of cases has to come from somewhere. Even the most meritless complaint doesn't disappear on its own. It demands expensive defense lawyers and depositions and motions and-- most counterproductive of all-- valuable mindshare from those entrepreneurs ordinarily driving the economic growth our communities need to remain sustainable.

Truly, we're amazed ourselves how several regular local small business targets even manage to keep operating, considering how often they're dragged into Madison County Court.

So now, finally, many of those businesses have made it a matter of course to start fighting back. There's always the threat that they get sued more often for speaking up and it isn't exactly cheap to do so, but somebody has to push back the pendulum. Bullies never relent in the face of appeasement.

Local judges and lawyers irked by all the attention they've garnered might note as much. The spotlight is here, but they cannot say they didn't ask for it.

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