Our courts need backbone

By The Madison County Record | Jul 2, 2006

It's a sad state of the affairs of our courts that so many people believe anything-- plain anything-- is "actionable."

Receive an "unwanted" fax? Or are your fax fees "too high"? Was that Barbie limited edition not limited enough? Did your new Sears oven scare you? Or is it the mini-blinds that are so frightening?

We've been justifiably hard on the accusers in these notorious cases, without whom so many dramatic, spurious claims could never insult our civil justice system. But we're reminded this past week that our litigation phenomenon isn't really the fault of useful idiot plaintiffs.

Rather, it rests squarely on the shoulders of the custodians of our courts themselves. That's the judges and the lawyers, for whom sworn ethics and standards are rarely compelling enough to overcome personal self-interest.

Cases in point?

As reported by our Steve Korris, more than a year ago, the Fifth District Appellate Court ordered plaintiff's attorney Thomas Maag to arbitrate his four-year old dispute with AT & T over fees. But he flat-out refused, and instead served subpoenas on the arbitrators.

"The plaintiffs were ordered to arbitrate the case. They have not done so," wrote an exasperated Judge Melissa Chapman last month, repeating herself like a mother to her wayward teenager.

Filed under "Sue me? Well, then I'll sue you too!," there's lawyer Bradley Lakin, seeking "in excess of $30 million" from those who accused his father, Tom, of various personal transgressions this spring. Lakin claims lawyer Ed Unsell and his clients filed a lawsuit against his dad purposely loaded with wild allegations not to achieve justice, but rather for the sole purpose of squeezing $50 million out of them.

"The charges made by these conspirator defendants' were wholly and completely false and maliciously stated," reads Lakin's complaint, from which the language might doubly-serve to counter his own firm's multitude of extortive class actions.

Madison County Chief Judge Ann Callis has it right that she wants to move more of these cases out of court altogether. But it's clear that we won't truly curtail lawsuit abuse until the lawyer-offenders face genuine repercussions for their actions.

They push the envelope because there's no downside. It's time our judges asserted one.

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