Hello 'hellhole'

By The Madison County Record | Nov 21, 2009

Earlier this year, the Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL) praised Madison County for improving its transparency and public access, announcing that Madison is no longer a judicial "hellhole."

The American Tort Reform Association bestowed that dubious honor on Madison a few years ago in recognition of its astronomically high number of asbestos and other civil litigation filings.

While things seemed to be improving, Madison still had four times as many lawsuits filed as 100 other Illinois counties. An asbestos case was still 135 times more likely to be filed in Madison than in the more heavily populated Cook County, and 90 percent of those cases had no connection to Madison.

And once again, local lawsuit action is ramping up to hellhole levels.

Asbestos filings have steadily increased in Madison over the last three years, with new cases filed so far in 2009 exceeding the 2008 annual total. As of this month, 656 new asbestos cases have been filed in Madion, versus the 2008 year-end total of 639.

That's much less than the 2003 peak of 953 filings, but Madison still claims one of the hottest asbestos dockets in the country and seems hellbent on reliving its inglorious recent past.

It's not just friendly and obliging jurors that attract plaintiffs' attorneys to the Edwardsville courthouse. No, it's also a special incentive-to-settle that former Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron added to the "Asbestos Welcome Wagon" five years ago.

Byron issued a standing order in 2004, allowing asbestos attorneys to set trial dates more than a year and a half in advance. Trial dates, as both plaintiffs' and defense attorneys know, prompt settlements – even in thin cases.

Average settlements approach $2.5 million – a tidy sum for which plaintiffs' attorneys can thank Byron. The rest of us can thank him for helping to perpetuate our reputation as a hellhole.

He may be retired now, but his legacy lives on attracting asbestos attorneys to Madison County like jackals to a carcass.

They'll keep coming until someone revokes that standing order.

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