Contributions to judges needs more scrutiny

Travis Akin Feb. 8, 2012, 8:32am


The issue of contributions to judges has created quite a stir in Madison County after a judge was removed from overseeing the asbestos docket as a result of her decision to award 82 percent of the 2013 trial slots to three law firms that had donated to her campaign.

Contributions to judges are legal in the state of Illinois but the appearance of a quid pro quo in Madison County has many people all across the state understandably concerned. While there is probably no malicious intent – the appearance of impropriety makes this more than just a Madison County problem but rather something that requires a statewide solution.

Of course, it's bad enough that this looks like a quid pro quo, but it's just as bad that all of the 2013 trial slots have been reserved for cases that have yet to be even filed. This kind of questionable behavior is exactly why Madison and St. Clair counties made it back on the 'Hellholes' list after a four-year absence.

The need for lawsuit reform is greater than ever, which is why two Metro-East lawmakers have stepped up to introduce some common-sense reform initiatives.

Illinois State Representatives Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon) and Paul Evans (R-O'Fallon) have introduced legislation (HB 4098) compelling the Illinois Supreme Court to adopt rules requiring attorneys to disclose to the judge and any party to the lawsuit any campaign contributions made to that judge by the attorney or the attorney's law firm. If the contributions exceed $500 and were within the past five years, the judge must recuse himself or herself from the case upon the motion of a non-contributing party to the lawsuit.

Lawmakers have until March 9 to move this legislation onto the House floor for a vote. Will the legislative leaders in the House allow this common sense legislation to move forward or will they stop it before it even has a chance to come up for a vote?

Past experience would suggest that HB 4098 will not get very far in the legislative process but we have to keep trying to get the legislative leaders in Springfield to understand the importance of restoring common sense to our courts.

Companies look to locate or expand their businesses in places where the legal system is fair. Here in Illinois, the combination of a poor legal climate, high taxes and political corruption has put Illinois at a competitive disadvantage.

Chief Executive Magazine rated Illinois the third worst state in the country to do business in following a survey of more than 500 CEOs. Unemployment rose from 9% in January 2011 to 9.8% in December 2011 and was the worst performance of any state.

Illinois needs jobs right now – not more lawsuits. The time has come for our legislative leaders in Springfield to make lawsuit reform a priority. Lawmakers need to pass HB 4098 sooner rather than later.

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