When they tell the story a few decades from now, it will start with Lloyd Karmeier, the small town would-be judge who could and did.
It will move on to President George W. Bush—how he came to little Collinsville before dinging our trial lawyers with the federal Class Action Fairness Act.
Then, to the ‘change of heart’ by Chicago Machine House Speaker Mike Madigan, a trial lawyer champion who flipped to allow a vote on damage caps in medical malpractice cases.
They’ll all be chapters in the tale of Illinois trial lawyers’ soaring political rise, and precipitous political fall.
Once nobodies in Springfield, the trial bar spent the 1990s uniting, then usurping labor unions as the special interest gorilla backing the state Democratic party. Worker armies are nice, but they take second when big money— used to fund expensive television ad wars-- talks the loudest. The Democrats needed it; the trial lawyers had it.
Then, on a red-letter November 2002 night for Republicans everywhere else, Illinois bucked the trends.
The trial lawyers here elected a fool proof Democratic state government. It was their State House, their State Senate, and their Governor—a trial lawyer himself, ushered into office by the financial muscle of Southern Illinois asbestos and class action lawyers.
Who would have predicted that three years later, the trial lawyers clout would start crumbling on top of a world they elected to protect it.
But how and why trial lawyers soared to the status of political kryptonite isn’t much of a mystery.
That’s because we’ve been down this tort reform road before. Back in 1995, when Republicans had the ‘fool proof’ Illinois government, caps also passed but were deemed unconstitutional by a Democrat-dominated Illinois Supreme Court.
Outrage was light—- but things were different then.
Then-- a furniture store had bought that ad on the back cover of the telephone book. We hadn’t met Peter Francis Geraci or those slick lawyers trolling for nighttime airwaves for bankruptcy candidates or Vioxx victims.
Then—- John Simmons didn’t own his own jet and Jeffrey Cooper wasn’t a connoisseur of thoroughbred racehorses. Tom Lakin didn’t live near Sylvester Stallone in Malibu, and his son Brad was in law school, not lassoing Fortune 500 companies to face charges in Edwardsville. Stephen Tillery was representing railroad workers, not taking on Philip Morris for a $1 billion payday.
Then--- the masses didn't know who or what tort reform was reforming in the first place.
Now they know it all too well, which is why this story will continue.
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