Newly appointed asbestos Judge Clarence Harrison said Wednesday that he is not certain why Madison County Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder was abruptly removed from the docket on Monday, or why he was chosen to replace her.
"I can only guess," Harrison said. "I was one of the judges assisting with asbestos, so it was natural because I was assisting with it."
Harrison is an associate circuit judge, elected by the Third Judicial Circuit's nine elected circuit judges.
"I don't normally get that information. For me, it's just a rotation. It's more of a change. I normally get rotated regularly through different areas. I've gone to a lot of different dockets."
Crowder had served as the court's full time asbestos judge since last year. On Monday, Chief Judge Ann Callis signed an administrative order re-assigning Crowder to the court's chancery and miscellaneous remedies divisions.
"A situation was brought to my attention and following consultation with circuit judges, we unanimously decided to change some civil assignments to maintain the public trust in a fair and unbiased judiciary," Callis told the Record on Wednesday, without elaborating.
The Record reported on Tuesday that Crowder's campaign committee received $30,000 from lawyers at the three largest asbestos firms in Madison County -- the Simmons firm of Alton and the Goldenberg firm and Gori & Julian of Edwardsville -- on Dec. 5 and 6.
Just a few days before those contributions were made, Crowder had signed a preliminary order that gave those three firms a total of 82 percent of asbestos trial settings for 2013.
Crowder has not returned phone calls seeking comment.
In preparation for his role in presiding over the nation's largest state court asbestos docket, Harrison said he is "getting up to speed on protocols and practices in the area."
He said he expects to remain in the same office.
"It's a period of getting acclimated," he said of his new role. "It happens every time I switch."
Harrison said he does not yet know if he will make changes to the 2013 trial schedule.
"I haven't reviewed it yet to make any kind of decision like that," he said.
Harrison is not aware if the asbestos docket has a large number of out-of-state plaintiffs.
When asked if it is an appropriate use of Madison County judicial resources to handle a large number of out-of-state claims, Harrison says it depends on the claims.
"I have no idea if accidents took place in Madison County or if businesses were in Madison County," he said. "If I have someone from Missouri in an accident in Edwardsville, and they sue in Edwardsville, no one says anything about that. If someone has a concern, they will file a motion in regard to it."
His current traffic court case load will be reassigned. "My docket gets assigned to whoever picks up that docket," he said.
"I will look forward to working with everyone with regard to the new docket and New Year," he said.
Crowder, who was first elected circuit judge in 2006, is up for retention in the 2012 general election.