Madison County Chief Judge Ann Callis responded to the American Tort Reform Association's report released today that puts the court on a judicial "Watch List" due in part to a growing asbestos docket.
"The asbestos docket in Madison County represents less than one percent of all cases filed yearly in Madison County. Thus, it seems intrinsically unfair to criticize an entire court system, and its citizens, who fairly and diligently serve as jurors, when the focus is one only one docket.
"Our focus as judges is to serve the people of Madison County, not any special interest group from any side of the political spectrum. We have started many innovative programs and reforms, such as
our Veteran's Court, which has been nationally recognized.
"Less asbestos cases were filed this year than last year. (2009-814 cases; 2010-650 cases) A significant amount.
Editor's note: There were 650 asbestos cases filed as of the end of October, according to figures provided by the Madison County Circuit Clerk's office.
"We have instituted many reforms that are working in Madison County. For example, in class action cases, we have a rule limiting the number substitution of judge motions to one per party. In 2004, 106 class action cases were filed in Madison County. In 2010, 8 class action cases were filed in Madison County. That represents a more than 90 percent reduction.
"We have established a mandatory mediation program in malpractice cases in Madison County. This program is working. In 2004, 59 medical malpractice cases were filed in Madison County. In 2010, 13 medical malpractice cases were filed in Madison County. That represents a more than 50 percent reduction.
"Our new asbestos judge, Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder, has just been assigned this docket. She has had one trial, which was a defense verdict, and this report even praises that she did a fair and just job. She continues to work diligently with both the plaintiffs and defendants to effectively handle her docket.
"We do not have any control over the 5th District Appellate Court. They are a higher court than ours. The 5th District, tells us, as trial judges what to do.
"We, as judges, cannot prevent cases from being filed in Madison County, as we operate under the American jurisprudence system. But we can and will continue to listen to the people of our county, continue to adopt fair and impartial rules and programs, to improve our court system, and better serve the people of Madison County."