Trial lawyers' profits dwarf business revenue in Illinois, report shows

Steve Gonzalez Oct. 18, 2006, 10:24am

Trial lawyers in Illinois reap annual domestic revenues that exceed those of every single publicly held company headquartered in Illinois, according to a report released today by the Center for Legal Policy at the Manhattan Institute in New York.

Trial Lawyers, Inc.: Illinois examines the workings of the litigation industry in Illinois, and much of the report's focus is centered on St. Clair and Madison counties in southern Illinois and Cook County in Chicago.

Special names are given to eight attorneys dubbed the "leadership team" for Illinois' litigation industry. They "make millions off the state's magic jurisdictions," according to Copland.

Randy Bono of SimmonsCooper in East Alton is called the "Chairman of Madison County," John Simmons is "President of Asbestos," Brad Lakin is "President of Class Actions," Stephen Tillery is "President of Tobacco," Rex Carr is "Chairman of St. Clair County" and Bruce Cook is "President of St. Clair County."

James R. Copland, the report's director, said that trial lawyers gross more than $49 billion annually. That, he said, is more than the U.S. operations of Walgreens, Boeing, or Allstate, more than twice as much as Archer Daniels Midland, more than three times as much as Motorola, and fully seven times as much as McDonald's.

"Illinois is a logical subject for our second state study: the fifth-most populous state, Illinois is home to a plaintiffs' bar whose aggressive tactics have had a far-reaching national-and even international-impact," Copland said.

Copland said the purpose for developing the report was to dispel the myth that the trial bar was the last group looking out for the "little guy" and to show the trial bar has developed a business model at least as advanced-if not nearly as wholesome -as those of the large corporations off which it feeds.

He says trial lawyers are different from traditional big businesses in two important ways.

"First, their revenues are extracted from unwilling defendants, rather than paid by willing customers," Copland said. "Second, the tort industry is in many respects immune from outside regulation since the bar associations police themselves."

According to the report, Illinois has more lawyers than any American state except for New York and Massachusetts.

"Tort costs for medical-malpractice liability are a greater share of Illinois' economy than of any states save New York's," Copland said.

He claimed Illinois' companies fare little better than its doctors as its corporations' self-insured liability costs are third-highest in the nation.

"Little wonder, then, that for each of the last three years, corporate attorneys and general counsels have ranked Illinois' litigation climate 44th or worse among the 50 states," Copland said.

According to the report, trial lawyers have prospered in Illinois by developing lucrative "lines of business" that parallel its national case portfolio, medical malpractice, whose liability costs have sent doctors scurrying out of the state; class actions, which have made the judges of Madison County infamous; and asbestos, the nation's longest-running-and horribly corrupt-mass tort.

Copland said Illinois courts have made fortunes not only for the state's own tort kings but also for lawyers nationwide who have sought out the Prairie State's "magic jurisdictions," those county courts where judges are elected with "verdict money" funneled to their campaigns by the plaintiffs' bar.

Copland also pointed out that Madison, St. Clair and Cook counties attract cases from around the state and nation hoping to cash in on the venues' trademark jackpot justice.

He added that the tide in Illinois, however, may be starting to turn. Copland pointed to recent Supreme Court decisions in Avery and Gridley and the election of Justice Lloyd Karmeier, ending a 34-year run of a Madison County attorney controlling that seat.

Illinois Civil Justice League President Ed Murnane, who supplied much of the research for the Manhattan Institute's research, said he can see signs of "modest" improvement also.

"There are a lot of positive signs in Southern Illinois," Murnane said. "Madison County is not home free, but a great deal of perceived progress has been made."

"The fact is jobs get destroyed when you have a litigious environment," Murnane said.

The report also points out that Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack has been willing to transfer cases that his predecessor would not have.

Stack took over the asbestos docket from Byron is September 2004.

"Judge Stack, in his first case since being placed in charge of the county's asbestos docket, granted the defendant's request for a change of venue-a decision almost never seen in asbestos cases in Madison County," the report reads.

"Stack's venue decisions sent tremors through the U.S. tort bar, which for years had relied on Madison County courts to help it bully billions of dollars out of corporations in asbestos cases."

According to its website, the Manhattan Institute is a think tank whose mission is to develop and disseminate new ideas that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility.

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