Where there's smoke...

By The Madison County Record | Feb 5, 2006

With $2 billion in legal fees at stake, you didn't expect Belleville lawyer Steve Tillery to go down with a whimper?

Best known as the man who convinced Madison County Judge Nicholas Byron to issue a record-breaking $10.1 billion verdict against Philip Morris, Tillery is now pressing to make his case against the cigarette maker to the U.S. Supreme Court.

What we'd pay to see that.

Somehow, we just cannot imagine Tillery pitching Chief Justice John Roberts on the certitude of his "Internet survey" for computing damages. Or trying to sell Justice Antonin Scalia on his concept that smokers like Sharon Price-- who continued to choke down her Cambridge Lights even after being let in on the "secret" that they weren't, in fact, nutritious-- were duped by healthy-sounding terms like "lights" and "low tar."

After more than two years of legal wrangling, the Illinois Supreme Court officially dismissed Tillery's case last December. In writing its majority opinion, Justice Rita Garman noted that it's the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that's responsible for regulating tobacco advertising, not the Illinois legislature or, as it was, Judge Byron.

Before he goes over their heads, Tillery is now arguing that Garman and the rest of the Illinois Court majority mistakenly misinterpreted the FTC's responsibilities in their decision. He wants them to reconsider.

Here's doubting they will-- or that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear his cause, either. Not that we wouldn't relish the spectacle.

While it's best for the Metro-East's reputation to put this embarrassing chapter in local jurisprudence behind us, America might benefit from watching Tillery make a last stand on the grandest courtroom stage.

It might spur an honest debate about the larger issues presented by the Price case. Namely-- should our courts award damages to plaintiffs like Ms. Price, who didn't actually sustain any? And can we really expect businesses to tailor their advertising not only to meet the standards of federal regulators, but also those of each of our individual states?

Not that Tillery's fervor is aimed at anything more than jimmying himself another shot at reaping immense, generational personal wealth, but the clarity delivered by high court opinion would do us all some good.

It might also prevent guys like him from spawning future Price debacles in the first place.

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