We paid the Price

The Madison County Record Dec. 3, 2006, 5:45am

Our nation's highest court hammered the final nails in the coffin of Price v. Phillip Morris last week, and we must admit, the news prompted mixed feelings.

To be sure, we're pleased that this sad chapter in jurisprudence is behind us. The Price case was an abomination to our civil justice system-- a raw, self-serving piece of litigation manufactured to enrich a handful of plaintiff's lawyers at the expense of our broader economy. It deserved to go down in flying colors.

Still, the man behind it all, Belleville class action conjurer Stephen Tillery, had been so audacious as to try and push his argument all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. As happy as we were to see it go, we half-wished the justices had taken him up on it.

Oh, to hear John Roberts or Antonin Scalia grill Tillery & Co. over this one.

Spared such an intellectual mismatch, Tillery worked to keep up appearances before media here and elsewhere as the bad news broke. Sure, he lost. But he was still right-- the U.S. and Illinois Supreme Courts just didn't understand.

The thing is that Mr. Tillery is never, ever wrong, particularly when he's arguing a point that portends to make him personally filthy richer.

This particular one-- that Philip Morris should pay damages to smokers who bought light cigarettes, mistakenly believing they were healthy-- was worth exactly $1.2 billion to Tillery. Lest we forget, that's how much he stood to collect in attorney's fees had the $10.1 billion Price verdict actually held up.

But it didn't. By wiser bodies, lawyer and bamboozled Madison County judge were deemed wrong themselves. Very, very wrong.

And in one fell swoop, Price grew to represent all that is plaguing our nation's civil justice system.

It had a caricature put-up plaintiff-- Sharon Price, who kept up her smoking habit, even after her lawyer's crack research confirmed the Cambridge Lights she so loved weren't akin to celery sticks. It featured a wild, activist judge (Byron), billions in damages to compensate people who weren't actually hurt, and enormous, tycoon-creating legal fees.

Oh, and then there was that little matter that it tried to regulate commerce and make law for all 50 states--straight from a little 'ole courtroom in Edwardsville. Just like the Founding Fathers intended.

Price common sense and deeply embarrassed Madison County. It caused damage to our courts' reputation that will take years to heal.

That's how this sad episode should be remembered.

It didn't have to happen. It never should have happened. And we shouldn't forget why it still did. May such legal travesty never, ever show its face in Madison County again.

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