Judy Baar Topinka calls for court reform outside the Madison County Courthouse.

Republican candidate for governor Judy Baar Topinka used the Madison County Courthouse as backdrop for a press conference Thursday morning calling for venue reform.

Topinka said venue shopping is "crowding dockets, placing unfair burden on Illinois taxpayers and damaging Illinois' business climate and national reputation.

Joined by State Sen. Dave Luechtefeld (R-Okawville) on the second day of a "court reform" tour, Topinka said courts with "Judicial Hellhole" reputations are hurting the state's economy.

Topinka cited the American Tort Reform Association's most recent listing which ranked Cook County as the Number 2 "hellhole," followed by Madison County in 4th place and St. Clair County in 5th place.

For two years straight, in 2003 and 2004, Madison County and St. Clair County topped the list. But improvements, such as the enactment of the Class Action Fairness Act, (which curbed the number of class action lawsuits filed in Madison County), and the willingness of Madison County judges to remove cases that didn't belong in their court, have slightly helped the venues' standing.

Topkina also noted the Harris Poll, which ranks Illinois 46th in the nation in terms of legal fairness, and a study by the Illinois Civil Justice League which illustrates how frequently Madison, St. Clair and Cook County courts are used to file lawsuits.

"With three of the six worst counties for litigation abuse right here in Illinois, it should come as no surprise that companies like Honda are choosing to expand their operations and build new plants in other states," said Topinka in a press release.

She urged support of legislation that would restrict access to Illinois courts to only those out-of-state litigants with Illinois residency or with cases where the most significant issue in dispute ocurred, and restrict court filings to the county of plaintiff's or defendant's residency or where the cause of action occurred.

Similar legislation was introduced in the last legislative session by State Sen. Kirk Dillard.

Topinka said, "It just makes common sense. An out-of-state litigant should not be allowed into an Illinois courtroom without some significant connection to our state."

Referring to "hellhole" venues, Topinka said fairness and integrity need to be restored to courts which have operated "almost like a lottery."

Luechtefeld said he has seen the "devastating effects" venue shopping has brought to Illinois.

"The fact Illinois consistently ranks among the worst states in the nation for litigation fairness is an embarrassment," he said.

Luechtefeld also said that "time will tell" whether reforms enacted by Madison County Chief Judge Ann Callis, such as limits on substitution of judges, out of state lawyers and filing cases under seal, are serious efforts for change or politically motivated during an election year.

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