Asbestos trial dates to increase in 2011
As Madison County asbestos judge Daniel Stack prepares to retire, he bestows on his successor power to preside over one sixth of America's mesothelioma deaths.
In February, Stack set 480 mesothelioma trial dates for the coming year, up from 424 set in 2010.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, mesothelioma kills 2,700 a year.
Stack will soon surrender asbestos litigation that he has managed since 2004.
Chief Judge Ann Callis has begun assigning cases to Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder.
Some defendants joined plaintiff firms in endorsing Stack's trial plan, while others attacked it as a "rocket docket" that would prevent proper preparation.
On behalf of plan opponents, Robert "Barney" Shultz of Edwardsville predicted nationwide marketing of trial dates.
He found confirmation for his view when Randy Gori and Barry Julian of Edwardsville requested dates for 41 clients.
"We have been able to determine that 35 of those cases have no apparent connection to the state of Illinois," Shultz told Stack at a hearing in March.
"There ought to be preference given to Illinois plaintiffs," Shultz said.
He said he filed motions the previous day to dismiss suits so each plaintiff could sue in a more convenient forum.
"The appropriate manner of proceeding, given this really overwhelming number of cases with no apparent connection to the state of Illinois, is let's take up the forum non conveniens issues first," Shultz said.
For Gori and Julian, Benjamin Schmickle said, "The issue isn't, in forum non conveniens, whether there is a quote, connection, to Illinois."
Stack interjected, "We are not going to argue the forum non conveniens motions today."
"I have been making, with everyone's assistance, an effort to do something to address the problem that Barney has raised."
He said he understood the objection and, "It has been overruled."
"I am going to allow them to be set as I have already done before," Stack said.
He said he would hear forum motions when they are set according to deadlines.
"As long as you don't continue them, I will hear them," he said.
Twenty-one lawyers from ten plaintiff firms attended the hearing along with 27 from 21 defense firms.
After the hearing, Shultz proposed a trial calendar with 250 dates.
Practices in Madison County "resulted in the marketing of trial dates and the filing of lawsuits that have no discernible connection to Illinois," he wrote.
Madison County asbestos filings increased from 325 in 2006 to 814 last year, he wrote.
He wrote that two of the 41 cases from Gori and Julian had identifiable connections to Illinois, and four remained under investigation.
He also requested three more months to prepare for trials.
"The current six month minimum trial preparation process forces defendants to simultaneously prepare their cases for trial while also developing the full forum non conveniens factual record required by this trial court," he wrote.