Have we found the missing link?

Ed Murnane May 11, 2008, 3:33am


Usually this commentary concentrates on one of the sometimes-diverse matters affecting the civil justice system -- mostly in Illinois, but sometimes nationally.

Legislative activities are usually at the top of the attention list, particularly when the Illinois General Assembly is in session, as it is now. Under current circumstances, the attention is usually defensive as a trial lawyer-controlled (or at least heavily influenced) legislature can determine the game to be played. Right now, our battle is fighting the restatement of the Structural Work Act in Illinois.

Tomorrow it might be something else. On paper, the trial lawyer forces have the numbers to enact their agenda but when constituents (i.e. voters) get a chance to learn what is being proposed, sometimes the reaction from the folks back home results in some common sense thinking among legislators.

Sometimes, not always.

We pay attention to the current scandals involving Illinois government too. While non-Illinois readers might yawn over the daily dramas unfolding in the federal courthouses, particularly in Chicago, a lot of people are paying close attention to the "Rezko Trial" in Chicago -- people like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and Rod Blagojevich and a lot of others because the outcome of that trial (a few more weeks?) could have a significant impact on the future of a lot of people -- people like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and Rod Blagojevich. (Note: Sen. Clinton is not connected, but her pal, Sen. Obama has been mentioned and in their contest, everything is an issue.)

These are important issues to civil justice reform in Illinois because Blagojevich has been a close friend of trial lawyers, heavily funded by their big donors, and the more attention that is focused on him and his activities, the more likely the trial lawyers are to back away because they don't want to be tarnished.

We pay attention to what is happening in the state courts in Illinois because that is where most of the abuse of the civil justice system takes place. Trial lawyers have considerable influence -- overwhelming influence -- in some venues and while it's hard to fight one-party rule in some areas, bright spotlights and public attention can bring about some change.

Frequently, this commentary will mention Madison County, Illinois, the Southwestern Illinois county just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. Madison County has been a "judicial hellhole" for years, the cesspool of the judiciary, etc. etc. But that's changing. More than a year ago, we gave the new judicial leadership the benefit of the doubt and expressed confidence and optimism in that leadership and we haven't changed our opinion. But we still do pay attention to Madison County.

Occasionally -- too often, actually -- we report briefly on some of the sordid details of what is happening among some parts of the lawyer community in Illinois, particularly in Madison and its neighbor, St. Clair County. We've reported on DUI charges against St. Clair County judges, against prostitution charges against the lawyer son of a former Appellate Court justice who was thrown off the court by the voters and then filed a suit against business groups, including the Illinois Civil Justice League.

We've reported when one Madison County lawfirm subpoenaed several state and national business leaders (including the ICJL) following a news conference in Madison County discussing problems (which may be on the way to solution) with the legal system.

And we've reported on that same firm when it's founder got into some trouble.

So where is this commentary going?

Here: Jay Hoffman.

State Rep. Jay Hoffman represents the people of the 112th Illinois House District.

He is the DNA evidence we have been looking for; the link that ties it all together.

Here's why:

Hoffman has been one of the most outspoken opponents of civil justice reform, a significant leader in the fight. He was one of the floor leaders in the debate against the Civil Justice Reform Amendments of 1995 -- along with then-State Rep. Rod Blagojevich. His position on civil justice reform has not changed. No one should be fooled by his support for medical liability reform in 2005. He did it to save his seat in the face of intense opposition from doctors and other medical professionals.

He currently sits on the House Judiciary Committee and casts a hostile vote on any -- on every -- civil justice reform issue that comes before the Committee, including the recent votes to restore the Structural Work Act. He's all for it.

But not only has Hoffman branded himself in the General Assembly, last week he surfaced in the Rezko Trial. Testimony claims that Hoffman was involved in at least one meeting that had enough significance to be mentioned in the record of the case. Hoffman has long been known as a Blagojevich clone, the staunchest defender of the governor and Blagojevich's closest friend in the General Assembly

So Jay Hoffman, along with Rod Blagojevich, will be retrievable in Google or other search engines when you enter "Hoffman Rezko."

Here's more: Hoffman is from Madison County -- an area in which the judicial leaders and political leaders are working to improve a bad, perhaps maligned, reputation. Jay Hoffman is not part of the reform team. Local residents who have been fighting for reform in Madison County -- including doctors and others in the health industry -- have had Hoffman at the top of their target list for years but have been ineffective in campaigns against the seeming invincible Hoffman.

And, by the way, Jay Hoffman is "of counsel" to the Lakin Law Firm in Wood River (Madison County). It's the Lakin Law Firm we referred to above that thought the best way to silence criticism from business leaders was to subpoena them.

It's the Lakin Law Firm -- the firm Jay Hoffman works for -- that also is going to be going through a messy trial over serious child sex and drug abuse charges against the founder of the firm.

And a "Hoffman Lakin" search is not a link Jay Hoffman will have on his campaign website.

So that's why sometimes this commentary and this News Update include topics that may not seem to fit within the realm of civil justice reform. But in Illinois, all you need to do is connect the links and you may find surprises.

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