The new Madison County standard

The Madison County Record Dec. 17, 2011, 6:32am

It would take a big calculator to add up the grand total.

But it would be in the many millions that local asbestos lawyers have funded the political ambitions of the local asbestos judges working Madison County's courthouse. And that money has flowed routinely since well before we started publishing this newspaper, more than seven years ago.

That was in 2004, when Judge Nick Byron sat in Judge Barbara Crowder's now former chair. A few of the players were different then-- the legendary asbestos lawyer-turned-judge-turned-asbestos lawyer Randy Bono no longer reigns-- but the game was the same.

Local plaintiff's lawyers sue big companies in Edwardsville. Local judges help local plaintiff's lawyers get leverage. Defendants settle and pay up to make lawsuits go away.

Some of this money in the form of political contributions then flowed-- and has continued to flow- back into the courthouse that created it, sustaining the system itself.

It was business as usual last week when plaintiff's lawyers from some of the most prolific asbestos lawsuit-filing firms in town coughed up thousands of dollars to back Judge Crowder's 2012 re-election campaign.

The usual suspects cut big checks for Judge Crowder. And for the Simmons Firm, the Goldenberg Firm, and Gori & Julian, this wasn't the first time they cut a check for the judge presiding over their work.

That sheer coincidence-- that just days earlier, Crowder signed a preliminary order setting valuable, leverage-providing asbestos trial slots for 2013, and that these same firms received 82 percent of those slots-- wasn't a Madison County first, either.

That's how it's always been in Madison County. Until now.

After word of the contributions leaked to this newspaper and others, Chief Judge Ann Callis removed Crowder from the asbestos docket and reassigned (read: demoted) her to handle chancery, miscellaneous remedies, and eminent domain cases in the court's civil division.

Judge Callis says she did this "to maintain the public trust in a fair and unbiased judiciary."

Well, there's a first for everything. Even in Madison County.

We commend Judge Callis for the new standard she set and we will carefully watch its enforcement.

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