The Weber rule

The Madison County Record May 4, 2008, 11:00am

Don Weber is gone from the Madison County bench, but he's not forgotten.

Trial lawyers such as Stephen Tillery won't forget, after being thwarted last week in his campaign to keep Madison County safe for judge-shopping lawyers.

The Fifth District Appellate Court in Mt. Vernon rebuffed Tillery's attempt to nix an innovative Madison County anti-judge shopping rule that first was initiated by Weber, who found himself becoming a pariah on the bench to class action attorneys in Edwardsville desperately seeking to keep cases off his docket.

Conceived in 2006 by Weber before he lost his re-election bid to Circuit Judge Dave Hylla, then adopted by newly-minted Chief Judge Ann Callis, the rule limited lawyers to a single judge substitution without cause in class actions. In effect it meant that lawyers cannot judge shop until a friendly courtroom is found.

During Weber's short-lived time on the bench, plaintiff's bar heavies like Tillery, and members of the Lakin Law Firm and SimmonsCooper law firm, moved dozens of cases from his courtroom to other judges.

Cases went to judges like Nicholas Byron, who was perceived as being sympathetic to anti-business sentiments.

Appointed by Republican State Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier, Weber wasn't anti or pro anything. The perception became that he didn't seem particularly keen to help the class action legal titans of Madison County squeeze mega-settlements, with corporate defendants put through the ringer while the cash register rings. Trial lawyers started opting out of his courtroom.

This mass exodus which included dozens of complex cases, became a problem for every other circuit judge. Dockets of the Third Circuit's other four judges got clogged, slowing everything to a crawl.

Meanwhile, Weber found himself with lots of free time. His plight drove Judge Callis to adopt the rule, immediately challenged by Tillery in court as unconstitutional.

A leading state authority on judicial substitution, attorney Jack Joseph of Chicago, called the judge-shopping situation "deplorable" back then.

He meant to the cause of justice. Today it's gong to be deplorable for the would-be judge shoppers.

Call it Judge Weber's lasting legacy on the Madison County Court. May it grow stronger with time.

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