Attorney General Lisa Madigan chats with Madison County Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron in Edwardsville last year.
By John O'Brien
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan was recently singled out in the Competitive Enterprise Institute's report ranking the nation's worst AGs.
Hans Bader, Counsel for Special Projects at CEI, wrote the report, which was released Wednesday and names Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal as the worst and lists Madigan eighth.
"Madigan... is an enthusiastic proponent of dragging out-of-state businesses into Illinois courts over lawful business practices that occur outside her state's boundaries," the report says.
The report ranks the attorneys general who have held office since 1998, when the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement was reached.
Madigan, who took office in 2003, is criticized for giving preferential treatment to campaign contributors and using the office to set policy.
The report says Madigan filed briefs in 2003 to support lawsuits brought by some of her largest campaign donors, who were seeking to hold out-of-state gun manufacturers responsible for crimes committed by Illinois felons, even though the guns were sold out of state. The Supreme Court rejected these lawsuits.
It adds that she tried to impose taxes on out-of-state mail order businesses, which was contrary to a Supreme Court decision that said such a move was unconstitutional.
"If the suit were successful, the businesses would have had to pay three times the taxes they allegedly owed, and Beeler, Schad & Diamond, the law firm that brought the suit and had given money to Madigan's campaign, would receive a 25-percent cut," the report says.
"Madigan supported the suit even though the Illinois Department of Revenue refused to collect such taxes from some of the businesses sued."
Bader stopped short of placing blame on Madigan for Illinois' presence on the American Tort Reform Association's Judicial Hellhole report, which places three state counties in the top six judicial hellholes.
He did, however, mention Madigan filing a lawsuit that challenged emissions by an Indiana power plant in the wrong forum.
"As Illinois' top government lawyer, Madigan should have known the basic legal rule that one state's environmental law cannot be applied to emissions in another state, since states are not supposed to regulate beyond their own borders, and federal law preempts state law in such disputes," Bader wrote.
It also cites Madigan urging the Supreme Court to grant state attorneys general immunity from suit in the courts of every state but their own.
"Madigan's attitude could be summed up as, 'immunity from suit for me, but not for thee,'" Bader wrote.
Bader was equally harsh on Blumenthal, the longest serving attorney general in Connecticut history. He was first elected in 1990.
"The nation's worst state attorney general is Richard Blumenthal, a tireless crusader for growing the power of his own office and spreading largesse to his cronies," Bader wrote.
Bader focused largely on Blumenthal's role in litigation against tobacco companies, starting with the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement.
"Wealthy trial lawyers across the nation received $14 billion nationally in attorneys' fees under a $246 billion-plus settlement paid for primarily by smokers -- the alleged victims of the very fraud that begat the settlement," Bader said.
The report says Blumenthal steered $65 million in fees to his own allies and the associates of former Gov. John Rowland, later convicted of corruption in an unrelated matter.
It adds that Blumenthal went "through the motions" of soliciting letters from firms interested in representing the state in the lawsuit. Of the four he selected, one was his former firm, another's partner was married to a partner in the first firm and a managing partner in the third served as counsel to Rowland.
Blumenthal is also bashed for a lawsuit he filed on behalf of several other states against out-of-state utilities for allegedly contributing to global warming.
"Blumenthal himself admitted that his goal was to 'shake up and reshape the way an industry does business' across the nation," Bader wrote. "Since when is that the role of a state official?"
During an interview, Bader said that Blumenthal's recent aggressiveness against insurance companies did not contribute to his ranking, but it may in future lists.
"That's something that did not factor, but it may strengthen the case in the future," Bader said. "In a sense, that's the icing on the cake."
Blumenthal did not return a message seeking comment.
The three individuals following Blumenthal on the list are no longer in office. Former California AG Bill Lockyer (now the State Treasurer) is ranked "a close second" for neglecting "to enforce state laws against favored in-state campaign donors, even as he forced out-of state businesses to live by California rules."
The report says Lockyer refused to enforce state election laws against an Indian tribe that ran a casino even though the California Fair Political Practices Commission concluded that it did violate state campaign laws. The tribe had given Lockyer $175,000. The report also criticizes Lockyer for joining Blumenthal's global warming lawsuit.
Third is former New York AG Eliot Spitzer (now governor), largely because "He specialized in using lawsuits and threats of indictment to force businesses to enter into costly settlements that regulate entire national industries and restrict lawful conduct in other states."
It adds that in 2000 he testified in favor of a $1.25 billion attorneys' fee request by lawyers who brought New York's copycat lawsuit against tobacco companies. The attorneys were only hired after Mississippi and Florida had already won billions of dollars and Bader feels their presence was unnecessary to win New York's case.
They ended up with $625 million, an hourly rate of $13,000.
Spitzer also sued Western Union Co. because "foreign swindlers were covertly using telegrams to engage in wire fraud scams."
Fourth is former New Jersey AG Zulima Farber, who resigned in Sept. She had taken office just nine months earlier even though court records showed she had 13 speeding tickets, three license suspensions and two bench warrants seeking her arrest.
"Farber admitted to being embarrassed by her record, joking that it might take psychoanalysis to learn why she behaved as she did," Bader wrote.
Patrick Lynch of Rhode Island rounds out the top five for employing trial lawyers who contributed to his campaign to work on a lead-paint nuisance suit.
"Moreover, the lead paint companies, which were from out of state, were held liable to Rhode Island without any proof that the lead paint they sold ended up on any buildings currently standing in Rhode Island," Bader wrote.
West Virginia's longtime AG Darrell McGraw is sixth.
"He basically has hired out the office of attorney general to trial lawyers, even though a trial judge's ruling in West Virginia says he can't have contingency fee agreements with lawyers," Bader said.
The American Tort Reform Association also listed McGraw as a reason it considers the state of West Virginia the worst judicial hellhole in the country.
Vermont AG William Sorrell is seventh, mostly for having his state's legislature to "change the law to make tobacco companies retroactively liable for the state's Medicaid bills, irrespective of their individual guilt or innocence of fraud toward smokers."
Former Wisconsin AG Peg Lautenschlager is ninth. The report cites an incident where she drunkenly drove a state car into a ditch after misappropriating it for her own personal use.
"While busy bringing meritless suits against out-of-state businesses, she allowed the backlog at the Wisconsin state crime lab to triple to well over 1,000 cases, leading to a delay in apprehending a rapist who went on to murder a Wisconsin State Department of Justice Agent," the report says.
Tenth is Tom Reilly of Massachusetts, noted in the report for filing a global warming suit of his own and playing a leading role in the $8 million Western Union settlement.
The rankings were based on criteria like encroachment on the powers of other branches of government, interfering in the affairs of other states or federal agencies, encouragement of judicial activism and frivolous lawsuits and favoritism towards campaign contributors.
CEI is a nonprofit public policy organization that is "dedicated to advancing the principles of free enterprise and limited government."