Our State Supreme Court Super-Justice

The Madison County Record May 6, 2007, 5:00pm

We've long argued on these pages that Madison County Judge Nicholas Byron carries something of an authority delusion.

Rather than simply interpreting state law in cases brought before him, as is his charge as a circuit court judge, Byron likes to play regulator and legislator too, writing state laws and setting national guidelines for product use from the bench when his whims demand it.

Or when his favorite intellectual inspiration, Belleville plaintiff's lawyer Steven Tillery, just happens to ask. Byron once tried to award Tillery $1.2 billion (with a 'b') in legal fees for going to the trouble of initiating a class action lawsuit against cigarette maker Philip Morris. The man can be quite convincing.

And Tillery was once more last week, charming Judge Byron into joining him on a brand new crusade in a novel new role: State Supreme Court Super-Justice.

Tillery's request: defy Illinois' highest court and re-open Price v. Philip Morris, that case of the overturned-and-then-dismissed $10.1 billion Byron bench verdict that made them both famous.

Tillery believes the Illinois Supreme Court-- Justice Rita Garman, specifically-- made a mistake, and he wants Byron to help him correct it.

Tillery would play the warrior consumer lawyer again, fighting for economic justice. Byron would play the over-reaching local judge who, despite his job's stated limits, is just trying to do what he thinks is right. It would be just like old times.

The plaintiff's lawyer was enchanting; the judge was smitten. Maybe it really wasn't over like everyone said it was?

"I think it's incumbent upon you to find out if I can do anything more," Byron told Tillery, during a hearing in Edwardsville last week.

Philip Morris' lawyer, George Lombardi, was baffled.

"We shouldn't even be in this room talking about this because this case is over; it's dead," he said.

Indeed. "We reverse the judgment of the circuit court and remand with instructions to dismiss" reads pretty crystal clear to us. Then again, when you're playing justice system make believe, anything is possible.

"I am here to follow the law and that's all I intend to do, period, in spite of the intimations, by the way, of various members of the media," Byron promised.

Then follow it, Judge. Just follow it.

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