To the Editor:
In its ongoing quest to misinform and mislead the public and press, the Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL), a political front group for wealthy special interests and massive corporations that wish to minimize the chances they might ever be held accountable for negligent or willful actions that harm innocent people, issued the latest edition of its periodic junk science studies whose conclusions were reached before the first word was written. As usual, ICJL offers a distorted view of the Illinois court system to serve the political and financial goals of its patrons, which are to maximize profits and further concentrate wealth with only a few, no matter the human toll.
Is it really surprising that many lawsuits are filed in Cook County, the second most populous county in the United States, home to the nation’s third largest city, and the place of business for tens of thousands of companies, large and small? Even the nameless author(s?) of the ICJL “study” are forced to acknowledge as much, though without it altering their conclusions. Chicago and Cook County are the economic engines of the state of Illinois, with millions employed there and working for businesses that make ample use of the court system to protect their interests. Naturally, the use of the courts is higher there as a percent of total population, but that is a meaningless figure. Comparing the court system of Cook County, population 5.1 million, to that of Hardin County, population 4,320, is nonsensical. In fact, it stands to reason that were one to look at the population centers in any state, one would expect to find more court filings in them than in the state as a whole or compared to less populous areas, especially rural counties.
In fact, very few Americans ever file lawsuits. In Illinois, more than 70 percent of court actions are initiated by businesses suing other businesses or individuals for money. Since 2007, the number of all civil cases in Illinois courts is down 26 percent. As for medical malpractice cases, the number brought in our state has steadily declined over the past decade; it’s fallen more than 40 percent since 2003.
Small businesses surveyed by the National Federation of Independent Business ranked lawsuits as 71st among the 75 issues that they find important; notions to the contrary, promoted again today, simply are at odds with reality. Taxes, energy prices, and the cost of labor are far more important factors for a company deciding where to locate.
As for the claims about the Metro East as a haven for lawsuits, a leading Madison County defense attorney who handles asbestos cases told St. Louis Public Radio on January 15, 2014, that his clients have always received fair treatment in Madison County and he disagreed with the claim that it is a “judicial hellhole.” He said cases are filed and defended in that jurisdiction because it is, in fact, cost-effective for defendants.
In a story on the St. Clair County Courts on December 13, 2013, the Belleville News Democrat interviewed Chief Judge John Baricevic and reported:
"It's tough to talk about justice because it's all about perception," Baricevic said. For example, there were 135 asbestos cases filed in the county, Baricevic said. Of those, six motions for a change of venue were filed. Three were denied; three were granted."
Illinois courts provide an even-handed avenue for individuals to hold wrongdoers accountable – even the most powerful actors who, in other spheres of our government, exert vastly disproportionate influence over decision making. Much to the dismay of the wealthy benefactors behind the ICJL, our legal system serves as a powerful deterrent against corporate misconduct and, by design, it quickly dismisses the very few suits without merit.
Front groups like ICJL intentionally demonize our civil justice system, spreading lies about lawsuits deterring business and driving unemployment in Illinois – all in an effort to prevent any legal action brought on behalf of individuals injured or killed as a result of negligence or wrongdoing by the powerful interests behind them.
The ICJL’s shoddy “study” wouldn’t be accepted at any peer-reviewed legal journal and its collection of selective statistics, incomplete data and foregone conclusions do not deserve to be taken at face value by the people of Illinois. Instead, it should be recognized for what it is, a pathetic attempt to put a phony academic gloss on the effort to strip middle and lower income Illinoisans of their constitutional right to access the courts their tax dollars fund.
John D. Cooney
President, Illinois Trial Lawyers Association