Ed Murnane has seen a lot during his time as president of the Illinois Civil Justice League.
He was there when the ICJL first formed on Feb. 1, 1993 and has been working to further its mission to create a more fair civil justice system ever since.
With Friday marking the group’s 20th year of existence, Murnane said the ICJL has expanded its reach over the past two decades and experienced several successes along the way.
“Our organization has proven itself in the past 20 years that it does serve a valuable role in Illinois,” Murnane said, pointing to the ICJL’s involvement in the state’s legislature and judicial elections.
Although the group has seen successes, it actually formed out of failure.
Murnane said the Illinois Business Roundtable, a group of corporate leaders in the state, decided to create an organization that focused exclusively on civil justice issues after they failed to get a tort reform bill passed out of the General Assembly.
That group, he said, saw the success coalitions were having in other states and wanted that to happen in Illinois. A few years earlier, it had created the Texas Civil Justice League, which Murnane said was successful in getting tort reform passed there.
By 1992, Murnane said plans were under way for the ICJL and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect for him.
At that time, he was working as the director of travel and advance operations for then-President George H.W. Bush, a gig set to end in January 1993 when his boss had to pass the keys to the White House over to Bill Clinton.
He was hired by the Business Roundtable before that transition took place and opened the doors to the ICJL a week after Bush left office.
One of his first tasks as the president of ICJL was to put together a diverse coalition, one that included more than just members of the business community.
He reached out to the Illinois State Medical Society and continued to recruit organizations, not-for-profits and other professional groups with a stake in the civil justice system to join the group.
Most of the ICJL’s first year of existence was spent on actually putting the organization together and deciding how to accomplish its mission.
Once it started to look at that, Murnane said, the ICJL quickly realized that it was going to have to change the composition of the legislature if it wanted to get anything done in Springfield.
“So we set out to change the balance of the legislature” by creating a political action committee, JUSTPAC, to support candidates committed to tort reform, Murnane said.
Thanks in part to some national unhappiness with the Clinton administration, Murnane said the ICJL was able to bring about the necessary change in the 1994 election.
By the next year, Republicans had control of both chambers of the General Assembly and the governor’s office.
“We were successful and we didn’t waste any time,” Murnane said, explaining that the ICJL immediately met with legislative leaders to push tort reform bills, including one calling for the repeal of the Illinois Structural Work Act.
After lobbying lawmakers, several lengthy committee hearings and a nearly seven hour floor debate, Murnane said the measure passed the legislature and went on to then- Gov. Jim Edgar, who signed the bill into law in March of 1995.
The law repealing the act, however, was eventually overturned by the Illinois Supreme Court.
That court battle, as well as the Democrats’ ability to regain control of the legislature, shifted the ICJL’s attention to the state judiciary, Murnane said.
“It got to a point where it did not look like there was much of a chance to do anything legislatively,” he said. “We began to focus on the legal system and how the courts were handling tort reform. We also decided we need to pay attention to who was getting elected."
That led to the group’s creation of illinoisjudges.net, a website that monitors and evaluates judicial candidates through interviews and questionnaires with the ICJL.
“We’ve gone from trying to get legislation enacted to trying to get a friendly legislature elected and now, we are focusing more and more on the actual judicial system and who is in it,” he said, stressing that that latter of which will continue to be a high priority for the ICJL going forward.
When it comes to the group’s focus on judicial elections, Murnane said he considers the ICJL’s involvement in the 2005 Illinois Supreme Court election and the 2008 race for the Fifth District Appellate Court major successes.
The group supported both of the races’ winners, Justices Lloyd Karmeier and James Wextten.
And although unsuccessful and criticized by some, the ICJL also got involved in Supreme Court Justice Tom Kilbride’s 2010 retention race, in which it lodged a campaign in opposition of the chief justice.
With 20 years behind it, Murnane said the ICJL would love to see venue reform and caps on non-economic damages, but in the meantime, plans to continue its mission and step up its efforts to change the way judges are selected in Illinois.