Heather Isringhausen Gvillo Oct. 1, 2013, 12:51pm

In recent national op-ed pieces, American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) President Tiger Joyce chided Sen. Dick Durbin (D) over the senator's remarks about First Amendment protections while also giving shout-outs to Madison, St. Clair and Cook counties.

In May, during an interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News, Durbin questioned whether media shield laws, which protect journalists from disclosing sources, should apply to bloggers and tweeters.

“Here is the bottom line,” Durbin said, “the media shield law, which I am prepared to support, still leaves an unanswered question, which I have raised many times: What is a journalist today in 2013? We know it’s someone that works for Fox or AP, but does it include a blogger? Does it include someone who is tweeting? Are these people journalists and entitled to Constitutional protection?”

Durbin, who is the Senate’s majority whip and chair of its Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, has never taken back what he said regarding the First Amendment and bloggers, which is what Joyce has said prompted him to respond.

His first piece published in Forbes magazine on Sept. 11 was titled “An Ominous Letter from Sen. Dick Durbin Raises Threats to the First Amendment.”

Joyce wrote that ATRA, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and nearly 300 other allies received an ominous letter from Durbin on Aug. 6, which demanded to know whether recipients served as members of ALEC. ALEC is a conservative organization funded by corporations that models state legislation.

Joyce argues that Durbin denied “any intent to chill constitutionally protected political speech and free association,” but then made companies funding ALEC feel threatened by claiming he has the documents to prove which companies funded the organization.

A letter to the editor from Joyce appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Sept. 24 titled “The Sorry History of Intimidating Free Political Speech.”

Joyce promises in both pieces that ATRA would continue to work with ALEC and its allies to advance the civil justice reform agenda “despite Sen. Durbin’s efforts to chill our First Amendment freedoms of political speech.”

Speaking specifically about Madison, St. Clair and Cook counties - so-called "judicial hellholes" - Joyce pointed out that Durbin should perhaps devote his time addressing problems in his own state.

“We would welcome the senator’s help in his home state of Illinois where three jurisdictions in particular – Cook, Madison and St. Clair counties – have long been notoriously unfair to civil defendants, with well-documented abuses in plaintiff-friendly courts,” Joyce wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

Joyce challenged Durbin to accept and welcome robust debate on important issues of the day rather than undermining and silencing those varying opinions he disagrees with.

“After all,” Joyce wrote, “how would he feel if those of us he targets were to turn the tables by deciding collectively, if quietly, to conduct our many conventions, conferences and meetings in any state other than Illinois?”

According to ATRA’s 2012 Judicial Hellhole Rankings, Madison County is ranked third and Cook County is on the group's watch list.

Madison County is recognized for making some progress, but is then slammed for being America’s asbestos court, having a poor outlook for appellate review, having outrageous verdicts and remaining the plaintiffs’ lawyers’ court of choice.

“Progress has seemingly stalled, and the jurisdiction’s truly troubled past appears poised to repeat itself,” the report states. “In a recent survey, lawyers who represent major employers named Madison County among the most ‘unfair’ city or county litigation environments in the nation.”

As for being America’s asbestos court, Madison County hears 25 percent or more of the nation’s asbestos cases, where only 1 in 10 of the county’s asbestos cases are actually filed by those who work in the county.

Cook County is praised in the report for falling from its “typical perch high among Judicial Hellholes” down to the watch list, but that does not mean it has improved significantly as it is still considered one of the least fair litigation environments, the report states.

Cook County is accused of having poor judges who do not deserve their seats. The report states that several judges received “poor reviews from the bar association for their knowledge of the law, judicial temperament or work ethic, but were reelected.

“Cook County voters are apparently a forgiving bunch insofar as only one sitting Circuit Court judge has failed to win reelection in the past 22 years,” the report states.


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