Ann Maher Oct. 18, 2013, 4:44pm

Madison County Associate Judge Stephen Stobbs will become the court’s fourth asbestos judge in three years.

Stobbs, who has served as an associate since June 2006, will begin his assignment over the largest asbestos docket in the country on Oct. 28.

He declined to speak about his new role, deferring questions to Chief Judge Dave Hylla.

Hylla has been contacted for comment, but a court staff member said he was presiding over a trial, involving an auto accident, on Friday afternoon.

Stobbs will take the reigns from Associate Judge Clarence Harrison, who has handled the asbestos docket for nearly two years. Harrison recently announced that he is seeking election to the vacancy created when former Chief Judge Ann Callis left the bench in May to run for Congress.

Harrison replaced Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder in December 2011 under controversial circumstances.

Crowder, who had served as asbestos judge for less than a year and a half, was reassigned to hear chancery, eminent domain and miscellaneous remedy cases after it was learned that she accepted $30,000 in campaign contributions from the area’s three largest asbestos firms days after she granted those firms a vast majority of the docket’s advance trial slots for 2013.

The practice of reserving large numbers of trial slots for asbestos lawsuits has over the years attracted thousands of out-of-state claimants with no connection to Illinois - into Madison County – explaining in part the docket’s expansion.

Harrison eliminated the advance trial setting practice in March 2012. But, that did not stem the flow of new asbestos filings into Madison County. On the contrary, Harrison’s ruling might have opened up the door for more lawyers, and potentially more suits, to make their way into the local system. A record number – 1,573 – asbestos cases were filed in Madison County in 2012.

The fourth judge to have presided over the docket in the last three years is the now retired Circuit Judge Daniel Stack, who managed it from 2004 through mid-2010, during a period of the docket’s decline and then steady increase.

Stobbs, a Republican from Godfrey, came onto the Third Circuit after the court gained an associate position based on population gains.

Before his appointment, Stobbs was serving his third term as Madison County Board member. He chaired the Judiciary Committee.

Stobbs’ law practice focused primarily in the areas of probate and estate, elder law, as well as trusts, will, estate planning, civil litigation, commercial and residential real estate and small business representation.

He is a graduate of St. Louis University and the Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Mich.


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