Callis takes issue with critical asbestos report, 'Litigating in the Field of Dreams'

Ann Knef Oct. 28, 2010, 10:53am


Chief Judge Ann Callis defended the Madison County court system following a critical report of the court's growing asbestos docket.

A study written on behalf of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR), "Litigating in the Field of Dreams: Asbestos Cases in Madison County, Ill.," was discussed by New York defense attorney James Stengel at an ILR-sponsored conference in Washington earlier this week.

The Madison County Record is owned by the Institute for Legal Reform, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Callis took issue with the report, which among other things, cites large jury awards in a plaintiff-friendly jurisdiction.

"All of the asbestos jury trials cited in this study are from seven to 10 years ago," she said. "For the past five to six years, asbestos cases that have gone to verdict in Madison County have been substantially defense verdicts."

In March, Madison County's new asbestos Judge Barbara Crowder presided over a trial that went in favor of defendant Ford Motor Co.

Callis also disputed some claims made in the report.

"For this study to say, '[t]he Illinois provision relating to venue...have long been ignored in Madison County,' is factually unsound," she said. "I have a civil docket, along with chief judge duties, and I consistently dismiss cases that do not belong here, as I'm sure my colleagues do."

The asbestos docket in Madison County has been increasing in recent years after a dip in the middle of the decade.

Last year there were 814 asbestos cases filed in Madison County. In 2008, there were 639; in 2007 there were 455 and in 2006 there were 325. In 2003, cases peaked at 953.

The number of asbestos trial slots have also have been increasing. In 2009, there were 424 trial slots scheduled; in 2010, 490; and in 2011, there are 520 scheduled.

Callis said that as of Oct. 27, there have been 650 asbestos cases filed year to date in Madison County.

"This number is a significant trend downward from last year," she said.

Callis pointed out that there are approximately 100,000 cases filed in Madison County per year.

"This means that our asbestos docket comprises less than one percent of all the filings in Madison County," she said.

Stengel also wrote in the report, "After a false dawn in the mid-2000s, the county has continued along the path of a magnet or clearinghouse jurisdiction, adopting and maintaining procedural, and in some cases substantive, rules which attract large numbers of cases to the jurisdiction to the benefit of select local plaintiffs counsel and to the detriment of fairness and the due process right of defendants forced to litigate there."

Callis responded by saying that Crowder has recently been assigned to the asbestos docket, "so her policies are just now being developed."

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