Judge O'Malley chooses sides

The Madison County Record May 23, 2010, 8:20am

We all do it. We root for the home team -- the Fighting Illini, for instance -- and give them the benefit of the doubt on close plays. Did our receiver really catch the ball or did he trap it? Well, of course, he caught it! Any fool could see that!

Our team returns a kickoff for a touchdown, but did our runner step out of bounds as he raced down the sidelines? Never!

Our allegiance is to our favorite colors, our perceptions.

We watch the instant replay and still we're convinced. Then the referee rules against us and we're outraged. But the referee, however faulty his vision or judgment, is presumed nonpartisan, so we grudgingly accept the ruling.

If we discover, however, that the ref has a bias toward the other side – he's an alumnus of the rival university or his son plays on that team – we question his objectivity and wonder if our boys were treated unfairly.

There would be no proof that the ref deliberately favored the other side, but our suspicions would be aroused and the outcome would be called into question.

Perspectives also exist in courtrooms. Both plaintiffs and defense lawyers expect every ruling to be favorable. Both sides sometimes are blinded by self-interest. But the judge's decisions mostly are accepted if he rules impartially.

What if there is a common sense reason to believe that a judge is biased toward one side? Can the judge be trusted to rise above prejudice or favoritism? Should the losing party wonder if the verdict was fair?

Michael O'Malley has chosen sides for his future. The St. Clair County circuit judge, now presiding over class action lawsuits, will return to private practice at the end of July to pursue class actions against pharmaceutical companies. If defendants, past or present, have questions about his objectivity, who can blame them?

More News