Suits surge, reputation plummets

By The Madison County Record | Nov 16, 2008

The economy may be slowing, but business for James Sokolove is booming.

That name may sound familiar to the cable television viewers among us. His pitch is the one you cannot get out of your head.

In asbestos lawyer circles, Sokolove is considered a marketing genius, a high priest of case-fetching. These days, only Tivo can save you from his somber-yet-solicitous torrent of TV ads, geared to convince anyone who thinks they've ever been around asbestos to call him now.

These days, people must be calling, a conclusion one could draw from Sokolove's swollen ad buys and the swelling asbestos lawsuit caseload here in Edwardsville.

We're not setting records again just yet-- but the trend suggests 2009 will be a banner year for the asbestos bar. With two months to go, 540 new asbestos lawsuits have been filed in Madison County in 2008, up from 455 in 2007 and 325 in 2006, the year when their popularity among plaintiff's lawyers here bottomed.

The present record--953 asbestos lawsuits filed in 2003--occurred when local public awareness of the Madison County asbestos juggernaut was virtually non-existent.

Back then, local media ignored the lawsuits and Madison County mega-millionaires being minted in its wake. There was no Madison/St. Clair Record reporting the story. Trees were falling in the forest every day, nobody listened.

It took a public blow-up involving a former Democrat U.S. Attorney General and then-asbestos Judge Nick Byron to get this story to the public's attention.

Which brings us back to Mr. Sokolove's national advertising campaign and why it has to matter to you. A good number of cases his ads gin up load down your courthouse.

There are 1,700 active asbestos cases on the Madison County court docket. A steady stream of new ones is getting steadier. An overwhelming majority of cases involve out-of-state plaintiffs using our court resources to pursue what we think are dubious claims. How does all this courthouse litigation benefit you, the non-suing taxpayer citizen? How much does it cost you?

As the asbestos caseload grows our courts will have less time to do the things you need and care about-- and that doesn't include adjudicating asbestos claims for out-of-staters. Then there's the damage wrought to our county's broader reputation.

Our reputation was getting better, now it's getting worse.

It's time to take notice.

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