In the last three years, asbestos filings have been steadily increasing in Madison County, so it may be no wonder that the number of new cases filed so far in 2009 has exceeded the total number filed in 2008.
As of Nov. 6, 656 new asbestos cases have been filed in the Edwardsville courthouse, compared to 639 in 2008.
Having peaked in 2003 with 953 filings, Madison County continues to carry one of the heaviest asbestos dockets in the country.
As one asbestos defense attorney put it, Madison County's asbestos court has "turned into a processing center."
The attorney, who spoke on background, talked about the court's 2004 standing order as among the reasons why Madison County favors asbestos plaintiffs.
The order, signed by former Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron, superseded a 1995 order governing all asbestos cases and came at the height of a backlogged docket. "Since that time, various new circumstances have made it difficult for the Court and parties to operate with maximum efficiency and fairness...," Byron's order states.
Among the broad dictates in the standing order, asbestos attorneys can set trial dates more than a year and a half in advance.
"On or before March 10 of each year, each Plaintiff's firm shall submit a request for trial dates for the following year and serve the same on all defense counsel of record," the order states. "The request need not specify cases to be set. The Court shall...thereafter, issue a trial schedule for the following year."
As the defense attorney stated, trial dates "prompt settlements."
The attorney said that an average settlement may be close to $2.5 million.
In the coming weeks, the Record will be taking a closer look at the court's scheduling practices and the impact advance trial setting has on Madison County's asbestos docket, and who benefits.
The Madison County asbestos docket also is in transition, as current asbestos Judge Daniel Stack has announced his retirement by the end of next year. He has indicated that three civil court judges are being considered as his replacement.
Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder may be among those three. She recently sat in for Stack during a status conference while he was out of town.