Callis passes big test with skeptical audience

Ed Murnane Jul. 29, 2007, 5:00am

Ann Callis traveled 300 miles from Madison County to Cook County to appear before an audience that has been highly critical of her courthouse for decades.

In a sense, it was a jury sitting in judgment of the judicial system in Madison County and Ann Callis, Chief Judge of the Third Judicial District, was the top witness -- maybe even the defendant.

Callis was the featured speaker at the annual luncheon of the Illinois Civil Justice League, an organization that has been in the forefront in criticizing the Madison County court system and several of its judges for more than a decade.

The fact that Callis was invited to speak -- and that she accepted -- were both signals that times are changing in Madison County.

This was not the first time the Chief Judge has met with the Illinois Civil Justice League to discuss ways of improving the perception, and the reality, of the Madison County Court system. One meeting was held shortly before last November's election when Callis was seeking retention, and four other meetings have been held, including two involving Illinois doctors and hospitals.

Last Thursday's event, however, was not a small meeting with one of two ICJL staff and a handful of officials from the Illinois State Medical Society or the Illinois Hospital Association.

Thursday's audience included leaders of major national civil justice reform groups, including the American Tort Reform Association, the U.S. Chamber's Institute for Legal Reform and the American Justice Partnership.

Other attendees included more than a dozen representatives of major U.S. corporations who were in Chicago for a meeting of the Civil Justice Reform Group.

The presidents of the Illinois Business Roundtable and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce were there as were the presidents and chairman of the Illinois State Medical Society and ISMIE Mutual.

Callis had moral support -- three colleagues from the Madison County judiciary also attended: Judge Dan Stack and Associate Judges Tom Chapman and Steve Stobbs.

But this was not an easy audience for the Chief Judge of the most talked-about judicial jurisdiction in the United States. This was not an audience of students at Edwardsville High School.

And she passed, with flying colors.

When she described the first change in procedures to be implemented in Madison County -- a procedure to eliminate "judge shopping' in class action cases and close a trial lawyer loophole, the audience responded with applause.

She talked about other changes including requiring arbitration and mediation before trials and she made it clear that she, as Chief Judge, wants to correct the judicial system in Madison County and there was no disagreement from her colleagues in the room.

In fact, she said all the changes that have been implemented or proposed (some require Illinois Supreme Court approval) have been agreed to unanimously by the circuit judges in Madison and Bond counties (which make up the Third Circuit).

The impact of the reform of the Madison County judiciary will be felt over a period of time, not overnight. But that period of time may be shorter than anticipated.

Already there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of problem lawsuits in Madison County and if trial lawyers, particularly those from out of state and the bottom-feeders, realize the game has changed in Madison County, the positive impact will be felt quickly.

Callis -- and her colleagues -- deserve credit for what is happening. And they need encouragement to keep it going. They'll get both credit and encouragement from Thursday's audience.

Judge Ann Callis won a lot of respect from a tough audience last Thursday.

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Organizations in this Story

Illinois Chamber of Commerce
215 E Adams St
Springfield, IL 62701

Illinois Hospital Association
1151 Warrenville Road
Naperville, Illinois 60566

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