This story stinks - but it has nothing to do with Illinois politics

Ed Murnane Feb. 22, 2009, 6:53am


A lot of the news out of Illinois recently – as recently as this week, in fact – stinks.

That's about as polite a way as there is to describe the Chronicles of Rod Blagojevich, and now the Chronicles of Roland Burris.

But here's another news item that some might say "stinks" – yet it's good news. It affirms the fairness and wisdom of our court system when it actually operates properly and with common sense.

Clay County, Illinois, is about 245 miles straight down I-57 from Chicago, and about 100 miles east of St. Louis. It qualifies as Southern Illinois since it's closer to St. Louis and Paducah, Kentucky (147 miles) than it is to Chicago.

A home-grown jury in Clay County ruled recently in favor of a large hog farm and against those who complained of odors emanating from the farm in a lawsuit.

Bible Pork, Inc., based in Louisville (Illinois – not Kentucky) is one of 2,900 pork producers spread through 20 counties in Illinois. According to the Illinois Pork Producers Association, 8.3 million pigs are raised in Illinois every year and they help produce more than $1.7 billion in revenue, 7,800 jobs and $136 million in taxes for state and local programs.

It's a big industry that isn't noticed much in the urban areas of the state – or in the 80 Illinois counties that don't have pig farms.

It is noticed by neighbors, however, and some of the neighbors of Bible Pork – 15 of them – sued, alleging that odors from the facility would be an invasion of their homes and would cause substantial annoyance to the use of their property.

Other neighbors, including some who live closer to the facility, disagreed and testified against the odor complaints.

The trial took almost three weeks and the people of Clay County ruled in favor of Bible Pork – and in favor of future jobs in an industry that is healthier in Illinois than many other industries in 2009.

This was not one of those big, multi-million dollar lawsuits in Cook County or Madison County featuring flashy trial lawyers seeking huge contingency fees. In fact, the plaintiffs weren't asking for damages; they just wanted to stop the farm.

But the jury, and the other neighbors who supported the farm, considered the law, they considered the evidence – and perhaps considered the importance of the pork-producing industry and the local economy – and they ruled in favor of the hog farm.

It didn't hurt that the lead counsel for Bible Pork is a farmer himself. Gary Baise, an Illinois corn and soybean producer from Morgan County, also practices law in Washington. He knows the industry and he knows the law.

Baise saw more in the case than just a victory for the hog farmers. He saw a signal for the business community to "take note of the jury's ability to make correct decisions when the issue is presented in a competent and non-biased manner."

"For years, Illinois has been known as a judicial nightmare when it comes to frivolous lawsuits," Baise said. "I believe this case will provide hope for those who are prone to settle these matters instead of standing up for their rights."

We agree with Baise. When the judicial system is fair, it works. When it's not, it stinks.

Chicago and Cook County, once called "Hog Butcher for the World" by Carl Sandburg, could learn from tiny Clay County (population 14,560 in 2000).

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