Legal reform advocates won't give in to 'obstructionists'

By Ann Knef | Apr 5, 2005

Ed Murnane

Lisa Rickard

Claiming they will not back down from an uphill battle, advocates for legal reform called on Illinois legislators to advance a package of bills that will help put an end to lawsuit abuse, venue shopping and halt doctor exodus from the state.

"The pressure is just starting now," said Ed Murnane, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League as lawmakers get back to business after a long spring break. "A lot of business interests are going to be very aggressive lobbying."

Murnane, who said Democratic state leaders were "obstructionists" for thwarting a reform vote in a senate committee last month, was joined by Doug Whitley, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and Lisa Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institue of Legal Reform in a press conference call Tuesday.

Rickard, pointing to findings in the 2005 ILR/Harris State Liability Ranking Study where Illinois ranked 46 out of 50 states on perception of legal fairness, said Illinois needs to follow in the footsteps of other states which have adopted legal reforms. The study, in which Madison and St. Clair County figured prominently, showed that more than 81 percent of respondents said perceptions of state jurisdictions affect business decisions, such as where to locate, according to Rickard.

"That does not bode well for us," she said.

"The momentum seems to be building everywhere but in Illinois to pass comprehensive legal reforms," said Rickard. We see it building and would like to see it move into Illinois."

Having dropped 12 places in three years in the Harris poll, the three Illinois counties responsible for Illinois' negative ranking include Madison, St. Clair and Cook Counties--which also ranked among the fifteen worst jurisdictions in the country.

"Predatory" lawyers filing suits against national companies in Illinois courts has an effect across the country--for workers, businesses and communities, "even in remote parts of the country," she said.

Rickard cited reforms in Missouri--the latest state to pass reform legislation designed to curb lawsuit abuse. She added that South Carolina, Georgia and Ohio also took action this year.

"Illinois could take a page from (other states) and should move down the path of legal reform. It is sorely needed."

Texas, which enacted reform in 2003, is seeing results already, Rickard said.

"Lawsuits have plummeted, insurance costs are down, doctors are returning," she said.

In the worst ranked legal jurisdiction in the country--Mississippi--the legal climate is already experiencing a positive change since reform was enacted last September, according to Rickard.

"It will take a while to move off of 50," she said.

While Murnane is under no delusion the Democratic-controlled Illinois legislature will have a change in heart when it comes to moving legal reform bills, he does believe greater media exposure is increasing awareness.

"I have no great optimism that (reform bills) are going to go anywhere," said Murnane. "The objective is to have a groundswell of awareness. To move the political mass."

"Democratic leadership is locked in bed with trial lawyers," said Murnane. "But the rank and file members want to get it done."

Whitley said the Illinois Chamber would be focusing efforts to raise public awareness by holding town hall meetings, holding face-to-face meetings with legislators and carrying out an advertising campaign.

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