Travis Akin May 8, 2013, 7:01am

Madison County Chief Judge Ann Callis announced this week she is stepping down from her post to run for Congress in the 13th District, which includes parts of the Metro-East. And though being a member of Congress is high profile and important, the position Callis is leaving – chief judge of Madison County’s courts – arguably has a greater impact on the daily lives of everyone in the region.

Madison County courts have a well-deserved reputation as a magnet for frivolous lawsuits and as a plaintiff’s paradise where personal injury lawyers flock from all over the country to win big playing the notoriously plaintiff friendly lawsuit lottery here.

In fact, Madison County is currently ranked the nation’s fifth worst “judicial hellhole,” and that well-earned reputation for unfairness in our courts is important because new businesses are unlikely to set up shop in a place where the legal climate is unfair and where they are much more likely to get sued.

Madison County desperately needs new jobs, but thanks to the abuse of our courts by out-of-state personal injury lawyers, Madison County is much better at creating lawsuits than jobs.

Madison County courts are especially good at attracting asbestos-related lawsuits from out-of-state plaintiffs and personal injury lawyers. Madison County comprises .0008 percent of the nation’s population but handles more than 25 percent of nation’s asbestos cases. And statistics show the problem is getting worse: In 2006, asbestos filings in Madison County reached a low point of 325.  Since then, the number of asbestos filings has increased each year, to 455 in 2007, 639 in 2008, 814 in 2009, 840 in 2010, 953 in 2011 and a whopping 1,563 case filings in 2012.

All those extra cases, most of which have nothing to do with Madison County, clog our courts and drain precious tax dollars from the county budget. And, as importantly, Madison County’s reputation as a magnet for lawsuit abuse hurts the economy and makes it difficult to attract jobs and opportunities to the region.

Judge David Hylla has been named Callis’s successor as chief judge of the Madison County courts, and he definitely has his work cut out for him. Judge Hylla has a chance to take a strong stand against rampant, job-killing lawsuit abuse in Madison County courts by implementing common sense reforms that will restore common fairness to the courts here.

Judge Hylla has a reputation as a good judge, and hopefully, as chief judge, he will take up the mantle of reform and end Madison County’s status as a “Judicial Hellhole” once and for all.


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