Bethany Krajelis Nov. 14, 2012, 4:06pm

The Illinois Supreme Court opened its November term on Tuesday when it heard arguments in five criminal cases.

The justices were scheduled to hear arguments in 16 cases-- nine criminal and five civil—in four days with the term coming to a close on Nov. 20.

Out of the 16 cases, only one-- People v. Elijah S. Lacy – is from the Fifth District.

In that case, prosecutors in Jackson County appealed to the high court after the lower courts dismissed murder charges against the defendant for a violation of his right to a speedy trial.

Although that was the only Fifth District case argued before the court this term, there is a possibility that the justices could soon issue an opinion in a St. Clair County case over forum.

The case of Walter Fennell v. Illinois Central Railroad Co. is on the court’s advisement docket, which includes more than two dozen cases awaiting rulings.

But, just because a case is on this list does not mean it will receive an opinion right away.

According to the Supreme Court clerk’s office, the justices anticipate that they will issue opinions on Nov. 29, Dec. 13 and Dec. 28. The names of the cases set to receive opinions on these three days have not yet been announced.

When it comes to the Fennell case, the high court has been asked to decide whether St. Clair County Judge Lloyd Cueto erred in denying Illinois Central’s motion to dismiss for forum.

A split panel of the Fifth District Appellate Court affirmed Cueto’s ruling and the Supreme Court heard arguments over the forum issue in September.

The railroad company contends Mississippi would be a more convenient forum than St. Clair County because the plaintiff, Walter Fennell, and several potential witnesses and railroad representatives live there.

Fennell sued Illinois Central in 2009, claiming he developed respiratory problems as a result of being exposed to asbestos and other toxic substances during his career with the defendant.

He brought a similar suit in his home state about a decade ago, but the trial court there granted Illinois Central’s motion to dismiss in 2006.

He contends that St. Clair County is an appropriate forum because the defendant is represented by a Belleville law firm that collected a voluminous amount of evidence while handling similar litigation for the railroad company.

In addition to upcoming opinions, the court is expected to announce on Nov. 28 which petitions for leave to appeal it has granted and which ones it has denied.

There are several Fifth District cases on the court’s leave to appeal docket, including at least 10 criminal cases and eight civil cases.

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