Cates denied

The Madison County Record Feb. 10, 2008, 6:49am

We can all exhale.

Serial suer Judy Cates won't preside in a nearby courtroom anytime soon.

Southern Illinois voters rejected Cates' candidacy Tuesday, choosing a brighter future for the judiciary, not a blast back to a shameful past.

In the bottom-feeding division of class action performers, Ms. Cates was once a key player in the local, lawyer-driven litigation leviathan that at times besmirched the reputation of our judiciary. Alongside her ex-partner Stephen Tillery and other big payday lawyers such as Tom Lakin, Randy Bono and John Simmons, she's a bona fide A-list denizen of Metro-East's go-go "judicial hellhole" past.

These days, Cates is just very rich and notorious for her lawsuit-filing vexatiousness.

There was the time she and her brother sued Publisher's Clearing House. According to a settlement calculation by St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan, her plaintiffs stood to get 12 cents each. Cates and her brother shared $3 million in fees.

When McClellan wrote about the outrageous settlement in 2000, comparing Cates to a "bank robber," she sued him and his newspaper, demanding $1 million and any correspondence to or from the columnist that was "in any way critical or mocking of lawyers or lawsuits."

Cates was, it seems, trolling for more potential lawsuit targets. She didn't get them. The lawsuit settled without Cates chiseling a cent.

In 2006, she found an easy target closer to home, suing the District 201 school board of which she was a member. At issue: a proposed students' dress code.

After $114,000 taxpayer dollars spent on lawyers, the board made peace with the hostile Cates, agreeing to her demand that no one involved could publicly discuss the matter unless they wanted Cates to sue them, too.

Armed with bank accounts stuffed from her hard ball settlements, Cates spent a reported $775,000 on her run for a seat on the Fifth District Appellate Court. For her, money seemed no object.

But it stayed a subject. In the end voters appeared unimpressed with the combative, self-serving approach that earned Cates much of her fat bankroll.

They weren't anxious to let her cleanse her controversial reputation by serving a term or two on the bench.

Had she proven victorious, it wouldn't have been the first time Judy Cates had used the system as a means to her own ends. Here's hoping we've seen the last.

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