Madison - St. Clair Record

Monday, February 24, 2020

Toss the Philip Morris verdict

By The Madison County Record | Nov 7, 2004

Just when you thought things might calm down around here, Madison County gets to revisit one of the cases that made it famous—Judge Nicholas Byron’s $10.1 billion class action whopper against Philip Morris.

Oral arguments in the cigarette maker’s appeal of what has come to be known as the ‘Price’ verdict headline this week’s festivities at the Illinois Supreme Court.

Refreshing memories, the case alleged that consumers had been wronged by Philip Morris’ marketing of “light” cigarettes. Mega St. Louis plaintiff’s attorney Stephen Tillery accused the company of suggesting that its products were healthy, thus duping and manipulating the smokers who just couldn’t stop buying them.

Tillery’s dupes, including faithful smokers and named plaintiffs Mike Fruth of Edwardsville and Sharon Price of East Alton, did not claim actual injury. Rather, they claimed deception.

As any Record reader would know, in Madison County being deceived these days can make for a lucrative career.

To that end, Judge Byron awarded Price and Fruth $17,811 and $11,384 respectively for their troubles. He gave their lawyer, Stephen Tillery, $1.77 billion for his.

That Byron is today a poster boy for American judicial arrogance is no surprise. He has proudly earned the honor.

In his Price verdict, Byron conveniently relieved the plaintiffs of their personal responsibility. Worse, he allowed his personal opinion of smoking (he called Philip Morris “evil”) to drive an obscene verdict in a class action case that should never have been allowed in the first place.

If Judge Byron wants to advise consumers on how to live their lives, he should get a job with Consumer Reports.

If Byron wants to make a law banning cigarettes, he should make a run for the Illinois legislature.

But so long as he wears the robes and takes the oath, Byron is way out of line when he tries to do either. His job is to interpret the law, not use the bench to make grandiose personal value judgments that impact all of society.

It is a great disservice to Madison County taxpayers that its halls of justice have been hijacked for this kind of aggressive judicial activism.

Here and now, cigarettes are legal products. They are legal and the Federal Trade Commission closely regulates their advertising. Whether they are addictive or unhealthy—a great many legal products are both—is irrelevant.

It is rulings like Byron’s that lead some to sadly suggest that common sense, in our justice system, is dead.

It is our sincere hope that the Springfield Supremes quickly and resoundingly chuck this case into the frivolous lawsuit trash heap.

It they don’t, it will speak volumes about how trial lawyer cash has redefined justice in Illinois.

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