While Madison and St. Clair counties are not subjects of a film about "greed and corruption in America's lawsuit industry," perhaps someday they will be.
Film maker Brian J. Kelly, who was in Madison County Thursday for a special viewing of his film "Injustice," said he was looking for stories in which the "end" was already known when he made the film.
The film features abuses perpetrated by lawyers known as the Kings of Torts: Dickie Scruggs of Mississippi who pleaded guilty to attempted bribery of a judge; Melvyn Weiss of New York who pleaded guilty to making illegal client kickbacks; and William Lerach of California who pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice.
"The message isn't that all lawyers or plaintiff lawyers are bad," Kelly said.
It is more about all the "dubious stuff" that is allowed to take place in a judicial system, he said.
"This documentary shows how the class action lawsuit, born from the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was skillfully managed by a small group of trial attorneys who manipulated legal rules, procedures and even their own clients – to become an international enterprise that rivals the scope and profits of Fortune 500 corporations," says a promo for the film.
Kelly said the film was not produced in response to the 2011 film "Hot Coffee," an HBO presentation directed by Susan Saladorff, a former medical malpractice attorney and an activist in trial-lawyer groups. A premise in Hot Coffee is that interest groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, want to undermine the civil justice system by limiting citizen access to the courts.
Kelly said he has been producing films, largely documentaries, for approximately 25 years.
The idea for "Injustice" came after Kelly said he read a Reader's Digest article detailing a $40 billion scam involving silicosis litigation in Corpus Christi, Texas.
In 2005, U.S. District Judge Janis Jack of Texas exposed 10,000 phony silicosis claims, saying fraudulent diagnoses were "manufactured for money."
"A system that allows things like that to happen needs a closer look," he said.
Kelly said he does not discuss details regarding the reported investment in the film by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
He dismissed critics who say the film is unfairly biased because of its funding.
"There will always be an attempt to politicize or label," he said. "They'll say it is wrong because of the label.
"The film is about guys who broke the law. It's black and white."
Kelly joined State Rep. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon) who co-hosted the showing at the American Legion in Collinsville.
Kay, who is sponsor of various civil justice reform bills including ones that address forum shopping and joint and several liability, said Thursday's event was held to help raise awareness in the community on tort reform issues. It was also a lead-up to a forum he is planning with a Republican manufacturers' caucus.
Of the many tort reform measures that are currently pending in the state legislature, none have advanced this session.
"This caucus will focus on how we can push even harder," Kay said.
Editor's note: The Madison County Record is owned by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.