Madison County's road back

The Madison County Record Apr. 1, 2007, 6:26pm

In the wake of the highest-profile Madison County defense verdict of them all-- a jury siding with pharmaceutical giant Merck over widowed husband Frank Schwaller-- surely, the Metro-East's once-untouchable plaintiff's bar is muttering.

The pendulum, sayeth many a watcher of all things legal around here, has officially swung.

The story now goes that Edwardsville, once infamous for being pro-plaintiff, has flipped and is now pro-defendant. Blame whomever-- but the jury pool is tainted. It's biased against trial lawyers and poised to never again give the protagonist in our courts a fair shake.

Don't believe it.

Madison County's reputation was never the result of its juries. It was never a function of its people, generally mischaracterized as perpetually indignant, itching for a chance to push back against Corporate America and the "haves."

In truth, it was a potent mixture of activist judging and aggressive lawyering, hyper-emboldened by an accommodating press corps, that built the Madison County brand. It wasn't runaway juries routinely defying common sense, it was a runaway system, led astray by a handful of money and power-minded actors keen on co-opting it for themselves.

Their names-- Judge Nick Byron, Randy Bono, John Simmons, Stephen Tillery, Brad Lakin-- stick with us. They're the ones who inundated Madison County with frivolous asbestos lawsuits; who made it a dumping ground for baseless class actions; who approved the coupon-based poster-settlements and the $1 billion in legal fees.

They're the ones who turned this place into a circus, then taunted those critics who might dare question their sanctity.

Cast for decades as the bogeyman, the people of Madison County were never as scary as advertised. They always had common sense. They just rarely had the chance to exert it.

The rest of us owe those Merck jurors a debt of gratitude. Thanks to their courage, we'll earn our reputation back in full soon enough.

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