Madison County asbestos cases peak at 953 in 2011

Ann Maher Jan. 10, 2012, 9:21am


The number of asbestos cases filed in Madison County in 2011 matched a previous record high reached in 2003 at 953.

Madison County, as it was in the early part of the last decade, has become the busiest state court asbestos docket in the country, with most filings brought on behalf of plaintiffs from outside Illinois.

Ed Murnane, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League, reacted to the figures saying it was "shocking and disturbing...particularly in view of the recent campaign contribution scandal involving asbestos lawyers and a Madison County judge."

Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder, who had presided over the asbestos docket for more than a year, was removed from her post last month after it was learned she had accepted campaign contributions totaling $30,000 from the county's three largest asbestos firms a few days after she entered a favorable ruling for them.

Crowder has said she has done nothing to violate the code of judicial conduct. She also has said the contributions would be returned.

The controversy involves a preliminary order setting asbestos trial slots for 2013.

The Simmons firm, Goldenberg firm and Gori & Julian combined received 82 percent of all the asbestos trial slots for 2013, per Crowder's order.

Crowder established 485 trial slots for 2013.

The Simmons firm was provided with 185 slots in nine weeks with 19 exclusive slots each week, plus 14 slots on a tenth day. For 2012, Simmons was assigned nine weeks.

Crowder provided 128 slots to Gori & Julian in seven trial weeks and she provided 84 slots in five weeks to the Goldenberg firm. For 2012, Gori & Julian was assigned six weeks and the Goldenberg firm was assigned five.

In the preliminary order of Dec. 1, Crowder granted all three firms the number of weeks they requested. The contributions, which came from those firms, were made on Dec. 5 and 6.

Murnane said that the people of Madison County are the "losers" because they live in a county with "a terrible judicial reputation, and they have to pay for that judicial system with their tax dollars."

"Hopefully, Madison County voters will pay careful attention to what is happening in their court rooms when they go to the polls in November," he said.

Crowder, as well as Chief Judge Ann Callis, and Circuit Judges Dave Hylla and John Knight are up for retention in the November general election.

To be retained, judges must receive 60 percent of the vote.

With the exception of last year when there was a slight dip in the number of new cases, asbestos filings have been on the increase in Madison County since 2006, as this tally of years-to-asbestos cases shows:

2010 - 752
2009 - 814
2008 - 639
2007 - 455
2006 - 325
2005 - 389
2004 - 477
2003 - 953
2002 - 809
2001 - 889

Records from the Circuit Clerk's office also show that 11 class actions and 19 medical malpractice cases were filed in Madison County last year.

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