The Jesse Jackson of trial attorneys

The Madison County Record Jun. 2, 2012, 7:33am

Is Stephen Tillery the Jesse Jackson of trial attorneys? It sure looks that way.

The Rev. Jackson perfected the art of the shakedown, targeting large corporations in the court of public opinion with bogus claims of racism that he would promptly dismiss in return for financial considerations.

Tillery follows pretty much the same pattern, though he pursues his targets in a court of law as well as in the court of public opinion -- and his bogus claims are based on trumped-up environmental concerns rather than alleged racism.

His latest "triumph" comes at the expense of the Syngenta corporation, makers of the weedkiller atrazine.

Tillery filed suit against Syngenta in Madison County Circuit Court eight years ago, alleging that atrazine runoff from farmland was contaminating the water supply at Holiday Shores Sanitary District. Through the years, he added more plaintiffs from southern Illinois towns. In 2010, he launched another suit against Syngenta in federal court on behalf of water districts in six Midwestern states.

In typical Tillery fashion, the wily attorney wasted little effort trying to prove his case. Instead, he burdened Syngenta with so many demands that the company eventually decided to settle rather than continue waging a protracted and costly court fight.

Syngenta agreed to pay $105 million to resolve the claims of the various water providers, which comes out to roughly $5,000 per claimant. Tillery and his attorney friends will pocket $35 million in fees.

"After years of litigation, the parties agreed to settle these lawsuits in order to avoid further business uncertainty and expense of protracted litigation," a Syngenta press release explained.

"No one ever has, or ever could be, exposed to enough atrazine in water to affect their health," the release affirmed, describing atrazine as "one of the best understood herbicides in the world, with almost 7,000 studies conducted over the past 50 years having examined its safety."

What, then, was the point of this long-running suit against a successful company that makes a valuable product – other than to enrich a Jesse Jackson wannabe?

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