Trial lawyers are only winners in Illinois legislature

Ed Murnane Aug. 18, 2007, 2:10am

Despite the intense media interest and the equally intense "insider" interest in what has been going on (or not going on) in Illinois government this year, the reality is that most Illinois citizens aren't paying much attention and those who are are not surprised by inept government because they don't expect government to do much that is good.

The exception, of course, are state employees and those interest groups that survive on state dollars.

Now in their third month of overtime and "special" sessions, the leaders of government in Illinois have still failed to do their job.

One of their primary responsibilities is to enact a budget for the state and they have been embarrassing in their futility. While the General Assembly has finally approved a budget, this fiasco is far from over.

In fact it took a questionable and highly political lawsuit filed in Christian County to assure that state employees would be paid.

There are several undeniable conclusions that can be drawn -- heck, they don't need to be "drawn," they are screaming loudly -- from the futility and failure of Illinois government.

First is that the Democratic Party establishment in Illinois is incapable of governing our state. With a Democrat as governor and Democratic control of both chambers in the General Assembly and ALL state-wide offices, enacting legislation, even highly partisan legislation, and passing a budget that would have been panned by Republicans, should have been easy and should have been accomplished before the scheduled May 31 adjournment date.

But they have been incapable of doing that.

Second is that Republican leadership in Illinois is woefully lost. In a state that supported Republicans for president every four years between 1968 and 1988, had control of both chambers in Springfield in 1995-96, and elected EVERY state-wide official in 1994, there is no excuse for the total collapse.

It can't be blamed on George Ryan or Jack Ryan or Alan Keyes. Legislative leaders have done their best but it's tough -- impossible -- to compete when the numbers are so overwhelmingly hostile.

The third and most disturbing conclusion -- yet also the most obvious -- is that the personal injury trial lawyers in Illinois have unprecedented and unreasonable influence over the institutions of government.

Kevin McDermott of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently wrote:

The governor has acted on just 31 of more than 700 bills sent to him by the Legislature this year.

That may not be a stunning fact by itself as it is assumed that a governor and his legal staff (and political staff) will review all bills sent to him before signing. Usually, it takes up to two months.

(Note: The governor signed an additional 27 acts on Friday, August 10, the day McDermott's story appeared.)

But it didn't take that kind of review to take care of the trial lawyers. The third bill he signed this year, Public Act 95-0003, was a trial lawyer-backed bill that was sent to the governor on May 22 and signed on May 31.

There was no announcement from the governor's office and no fanfare. Just a signature to enact a law that was one of the highest priorities of the personal injury lawyers in Illinois and opposed by doctors, hospitals, businesses, newspapers, many lawyers who are not involved in personal injuries, and thousands of Illinois citizens who understood that the new law is simply a way to allow trial lawyers to collect more money.

So despite all the bickering in Springfield, despite the fact that nothing has been done for mass transit, or for schools, or for the governor's touted health insurance plan, or for highways, or for cities ... and despite the fact that it took a lawsuit to guarantee pay checks for state employees ... the governor and General Assembly were able to agree that one of the highest priorities of the state should be to take care of the trial lawyers and they did that in a matter of days more than two months ago.

ITLA, the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, does deserve credit for not being afraid to let the world know who -- and what -- they are.

Twelve states have joined the movement to remove the words "trial lawyers" from their name. The national "Association of Trial Lawyers of America" changed its name last year to "American Association for Justice." Since then, 12 states have joined, most recently Kentucky, new home of the "Kentucky Justice Association."

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Organizations in this Story

American Association for Justice
777 6th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20001

Illinois Trial Lawyers Association
401 W Edwards St
Springfield, IL 62704

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