Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack needs a law clerk – or two or three.
Stack has stepped up as the Albert Pujols of the courthouse, producing more than any two others on the judicial team. The strain has started to show.
At a Nov. 29 hearing on a class action against Illinois Bell Telephone, Stack halted a quarrel over the length of the next round of briefs.
Stack said, "I have a lot of cases that are not similar to this one but similar in the volume of materials that I receive, and I don't have any law clerks."
He said, "I have volumes of things stacked up in my chambers right now that I try to come in on the weekend to go through."
Stack spent seven hours at the courthouse on Saturday playing catch-up.
He said, "Because there are no page limits at this point in our jurisdiction – which there are going to be soon – half the time I can't get through the stuff. By the time I get halfway through some of it, somebody files something else."
He said, "I'm being candid with you. I can only do so much. I'm one person, and I have a lot of these cases."
Indeed he does. Although the court generally assigns cases at random, somehow the toughest ones keep falling on Stack.
On top of many class actions and a few cases with delicate political overtones, Stack retains responsibility for the county's colossal asbestos docket.
He needed the Illinois Bell case like a hole in the head.
Lead plaintiff Big Sky Excavating wants Stack to redistribute $90 million that Illinois Bell distributed to customers under a law that legislators passed in 2001.
Legislators intended to resolve complaints at the Illinois Commerce Commission over Illinois Bell's conduct under a 1985 law that deregulated the phone company.
Big Sky Excavating claims Illinois Bell's distribution improperly favored some customers at the expense of others.
Retired Judge Phillip Kardis agreed. He declared the 2001 law unconstitutional.
The Illinois Supreme Court overturned his decision.
The day the case reached Stack, he had already heard a string of arguments and signed a pile of orders.
Five attorneys appeared for Big Sky Excavating and three for Illinois Bell.
Defense attorney John Muench said, "The plaintiffs are clearly, as we will demonstrate, asking this court to engage in rate making, to set new rates for their benefit."
He said Stack would have to make dozens of legislative discretionary decisions.
He said, "What they got was 60 dollars credit for every line they owned, everybody in the class."
He said, "What they want the court to do is to wipe out the 60 dollar per line and without any legislative guidance at all adopt a new per line amount."
He said, "Should the plaintiffs with one to 11 lines get more than people with 12 or more lines? Or should the plaintiffs with one to 11 lines, should they get more than people who have special features, people who have 12 plus lines plus their call waiting, call screening, all of those wonderful things that the phone company has?"
He said, "All of those people allege that they were paying too much for those special features. Who does it go to? What does the court do?"
He said, "This is not a case for loss. This is not a case for damages. There is no proof of loss, proof of damages."
For the plaintiff Tom Londrigan said, "First of all this case has nothing to do with rate setting. It has to do with interpretation, the proper interpretation of a one time statutory mandate that was issued in this case to end proceedings involving rates."
He said, "The issue that is raised by our pleading is, did Illinois Bell follow the statutory mandate in making the refund?"
He said, "If they violated that statute and they paid the money to the wrong group of customers, that is actionable under that section of the statute. The complaint itself does not raise a tariff or rate dispute. It seeks compliance."
He cited a case and Muench protested.
Muench said, "That is the first we have heard of it. They are handing you something that we can't respond to." He asked permission to file a response.
Londrigan said, "They have already loaded this record with filing after filing after filing, but if they want to file more as if this is going to be weighed in terms of pounds of paper produced, I don't have any objection to it."
Stack said, "I'm not sure if by the time I hear all of this and then you file written responses- This is not easily digestible, gentlemen."
Stack said, "I actually would like to read these myself before we argue, and I feel bad because I guess I sort of inherited this case and didn't get a good look at what I was doing here today."
Stack told Muench to give him a 16-page summary of cases.
Muench asked for a hearing in early February.
Stack said, "February the fifth I am supposed to be in a case which many of you will recognize, known as Magna Bank versus Thompson Coburn, which is a six week trial."
He said, "It is kind of like this case only much worse, believe me."