The Record's endorsments

The Madison County Record Nov. 2, 2006, 4:46am

Judge Steve McGlynn

Judge Ann Callis

Judge Charles Romani

Judge John Knight

Paul Evans

For Fifth Appellate Court (Mt. Vernon)

Judge Stephen McGlynn

When it comes to fostering trial lawyer profits-driven litigation, the Madison County Courthouse gets most of the notoriety. And it should-- Edwardsville is where most of the worst venue shopping or class action abuses have historically originated.

But just as important to perpetuating this hugely lucrative racket has been a complicit state appellate court. When the Lakins or Stephen Tillery slip their finest handiwork past chummy or intimidated judges in the Third Circuit, shell-shocked defendants routinely beg Mt. Vernon to reconsider. From the beginning, Southern Illinois' highest court has wielded the power to stop our "Hellhole" madness.

That it hasn't, instead efforting to rationalize "jackpot" decisions like Avery and Gridley for the trial bar, shouldn't come as much of a surprise given the makeup of this group.

Justice Melissa Chapman, favorite daughter of the Metro-East plaintiff's bar, spent 18 years as a personal injury lawyer under her powerful father, Morris, before the Madison County Machine sent her to Mt. Vernon.

Justice James K. Donovan was once law partners with Amiel Cueto, the convicted felon.

Justice Richard P. Goldenhersh is best known for dragging St. Louis-based Monsanto through a three year, eight-month trial over a freight train derailment when he was a circuit court judge in the mid-1980s. The net-- $58,063 in actual damages and $16.25 million in punitives-- was overturned on appeal.

Since replacing Gordon Maag on the bench in 2005, Judge Stephen McGlynn has provided some much needed intellectual diversity to this bench. He recognizes, importantly, that courts don't operate in a vaccum. In measuring plaintiff vs. defendant, McGlynn understands that judges must remain aware of how their decisions indirectly impact the rest of us.

Saline County Judge Bruce Stewart, choice of the trial lawyers who got Southern Illinois into this mess, would represent a step backwards. McGlynn is endorsed.

For Third Circuit Court (Madison County)

Judge Don Weber

Quite frankly, in a county where the biggest hitters are plaintiff's lawyers, it's amazing to us that such a vocal critic of their abuses like Judge Don Weber has managed to survive in local politics.

Since being appointed a year ago, the "in crowd" of Madison County judges, led by Chief Judge Edward Ferguson, have sought to systematically isolate Weber by allowing their plaintiff's lawyer allies to summarily avoid his courtroom. Like teenagers ganging up on the new student, they've been catty with the court's only Republican circuit judge, if only because he refuses to participate in the class action antics that have made our courthouse so infamous.

Ruling on such cases when they're unwillfully stuck in his chambers, Weber has offered nothing but common sense. When compared with his colleagues, the contrast is stunning.

In April, Weber dismissed a clearly manufactured Lakin Law Firm class action over $20 in "fax fees" paid to National City Bank in a mortgage closing. Asked in deposition, the plaintiffs didn't even remember filing the case.

"Plaintiffs were apparently pleased about their new mortgage since they did not object to the fax fee for four years and until they were contacted by the class action attorneys," wrote Weber.

Meanwhile, in Judge Andy Matoesian's courtroom, an identical case against Citibank settled last week. Matoesian wouldn't dismiss the case-- and the Lakins pocketed $660,000 in legal fees as a result.

Kind of crystallizes what's really at stake here for the trial lawyers, doesn't it?

Dave Hylla is a genial man who, by our view, doesn't appear to be a budding Nicholas Byron. He'd clearly be more reasonable. But his body of work as an asbestos lawyer coupled with his big money backing by SimmonsCooper is troubling, given the heavy lifting at hand.

In his short tenure, Weber has created enemies as the greatest bulwark against such litigative profiteering at our courthouse. The people should be comforted by his continued presence on the bench.

Weber is endorsed.

For Third Circuit Court (Madison County)

Judge James Hackett

We know for whom lawyer Thomas Maag is cheering in this one.

Associate Judge Barbara Crowder was part-and-parcel to his judge shopping scheme over the summer. The ex-Lakin associate's personal injury lawsuit against Cassens Corp. had been assigned to Judge Don Weber, not one to partake in his standard courtroom antics.

Maag asked Crowder-- not Weber-- to sign an emergency order against Cassens, even though the company hadn't been served with a complaint. The order was favorable to Maag, rushing to file his lawsuit before the statute of limitations kicked in.

Why would Crowder take action in a case that wasn't assigned to her? Why didn't she first speak with Judge Weber? Why was she so willing to help Maag sue Cassens, anyway?

These are all questions we've asked, ones Crowder has refused to answer.

And why would she? That's if the truth-- that she aims to please the trial bar, no matter what it takes-- is something the voters won't want to hear this election year.

Crowder's opponent, Associate Judge James Hackett, has had a long and distinguished career on the bench. The circuit's lone Republican until Weber's appointment a year ago, he believes Madison County would benefit from political balance on its court.

We agree. Hackett is endorsed.

For Third Circuit Court

Retain Callis, Romani, Knight

Actions speak louder than words, so we'll trust that new Madison County Chief Judge Ann Callis isn't just telling voters what they want to hear this election year.

Callis, who took over in May from Judge Edward Ferguson, has taken steps to rein in judge shopping and seems poised to remain vigilant against the abuses that made Madison County infamous. She's talking reform, which is a giant departure from her predecessor, who never accepted that there was even a problem here in Edwardsville.

A major concern is that this is all just for show. Callis watched quietly from the bench during our worst times, including the Judge Randy Bono years and our asbestos and class action heyday. She's never muttered a critical peep until now.

Electing only Republicans is a limited solution for reforming the Third Circuit Court. A longer-lasting remedy requires reforming the Madison County Democratic Establishment from within, stopping the flow of unabashedly anti-business judges who seek to enrich trial lawyers at the expense of our communities' reputation.

Callis' leadership represents the best hope for the latter. We'll trust that she's sincere until she gives us a reason to change our minds.

Retention for Judges Ann Callis, Charles Romani and John Knight is endorsed.

20th Circuit Court (St. Clair County)
Paul Evans

Sitting Circuit Court Judge Lloyd Cueto figured nobody would dare run against him in St. Clair County.

That's why, last December when he hoped nobody was looking, he filed papers with the state as if he were going to retire. But Cueto wasn't going away-- St. Clair County voters could hardly be so lucky.

Instead, Cueto had hatched a dishonest scheme he hoped would help him keep his job. Rather than run for retention, as sitting judges are supposed to do, he would effectively step down and run for reelection, lowering the vote threshold required from 60% to 50%.

Of course, there was then the risk that someone would file to run against him. But at such a late juncture and against such a well-funded cog in the St. Clair Democratic Machine, just who?

Just Paul Evans, that's who. An O'Fallon attorney with a small private practice, he is bravely standing up to Cueto's outrage with a candidacy he never might have expected.

Many legal experts believe Cueto's maneuver was unconstitutional. At the very least, it was unscrupulous in that it overtly sought to circumvent the traditional democratic process.

Color us unsurprised that Cueto's campaign was also ethically challenged. He named himself treasurer of his own campaign committee, correcting the "error" only when a complaint was filed against him. And worse, he featured a litigant in an active medical malpractice case, Dr. Joseph Shallert, in his campaign literature.

Call it the kind of dishonesty born of arrogance that for too long has choked St. Clair County.

Paul Evans would be a welcome change. He is endorsed.

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