Year in Review: Top stories and newsmakers of 2006

The Madison County Record Dec. 31, 2006, 3:36am

Tom Lakin

Don Weber

George Moran, Jr.

Gary Peel

Terrence Hopkins

Paul Evans

With the direction of the Fifth Appellate Court at stake and several circuit judgeships in Madison and St. Clair counties sharply contested, the November election is The Record's clear choice as the top story of 2006. Voters spoke and Democratic candidates trounced Republicans, consistent with national sentiment.

The state's most expensive appellate court race resulted in the ouster of Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier's selectee, Justice Steven McGlynn, a Republican from Belleville who actively campaigned as a court reformer. His Democratic opponent Bruce Stewart of Harrisburg garnered strong support in rural southern Illinois counties and stayed quiet on issues of reform.

In Madison County, Circuit Judges Ann Callis, Charles Romani and John Knight (Bond Co.) mounted a successful retention campaign amidst anti-incumbent rumblings. Until 2006, retention was presumed by judicial candidates who hardly had to make their cases to voters.

Circuit Judge Don Weber, another Karmeier selectee having a profound effect on the bench as a "reformer," was soundly defeated by plaintiff's attorney Dave Hylla for a full six-year term. Hard-working Democrat Barbara Crowder defeated popular Republican James Hackett for circuit judge.

In St. Clair County, O'Fallon attorney Paul Evans lost his bid to become the only Republican judge in the 20th Circuit to incumbent Circuit Judge Lloyd Cueto. In a highly controversial move, Cueto chose not to run for retention and instead ran for election. A legal expert called the maneuver unconstitutional.

Other stories with lasting impact include the death of Madison County's infamous $10.1 billion consumer fraud verdict Price v. Philip Morris. In November the U.S. Supreme Court put the final stake in the heart of the infamous $10.1 billion Madison County class action bench verdict. The high court refused to hear plaintiffs' appeal that they were duped into believing "light" cigarettes were safer than regular ones, which followed the Illinois Supreme Court's refusal in May to rehear the case it overturned in December 2005.

Price was a case closely watched by business and legal analysts across the country.

Young DUI
The day before he was to be sworn in as St. Clair County Circuit Judge, Patrick M. Young, 58, was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol and failure to yield by a Belleville Police Department patrolman.

Young's passenger was St. Clair County Chief Judge Jan Fiss, 64, who also was set to take an oath of office the next morning after winning retention in the Nov. 7 election. Fiss stepped down as chief. Circuit Judge John Baricevic was voted in as interim chief judge then appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the arrest.

The Record's Top 2006 Newsmakers

The Record selected the following newsmakers for their impact:

Tom Lakin
Following the filing of a civil sexual assault lawsuit, the appointment of a special prosecutor in Madison County to investigate sexual abuse of minors and a federal investigation, in December the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission filed a complaint against Lakin Law Firm founder Lowell Thomas Lakin. The ARDC has charged him with sexual assault and sexual exploitation of a minor and with delivering controlled substances.

Don Weber
Appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court in November 2005, Circuit Judge Don Weber brought a stern and common sense approach to the bench. He rejected pleadings of plaintiff's attorneys and in turn was rejected by them, culminating in his defeat at the polls in November.

George Moran, Jr.
There was no cake and ice cream; no folks gathered to reminisce about the good old days. On Tuesday, Feb. 14, Madison County Circuit Judge George Moran's last official day on the job after 28 years passed unceremoniously. Under fire for accepting gifts from a plaintiff's attorney and taking Spanish classes during work hours, Moran abruptly retired.

Gary Peel
Attorney Gary E. Peel, formerly the Lakin Law Firm's class action master, was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of bankruptcy fraud, obstruction of justice and two counts of possession of child pornography in March. Peel, of Glen Carbon, and his ex-wife, Deborah J. Peel, of Maryville, have been embroiled in stalled divorce settlement proceedings since their 36-year marriage ended in 2003. He filed bankruptcy on July 22, 2005, two weeks after a judge ordered Peel's second wife to appear for a deposition by his ex-wife.The bankruptcy court has stayed the divorce proceedings.

Terrence Hopkins
The sudden death of Fifth Appellate Judge Terrence J. Hopkins, 58, of West Frankfort, in November created an unexpected vacancy on the bench, giving Republican Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier another opportunity to influence the direction of the court.

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