Local law firms attract asbestos cases from around the country to litigate in local courts. One result has been an injection of more than a billion dollars into the local economy in recent years.
While that amount of cash provides direct benefits to local merchants, government coffers and charitable causes, some legal observers take a dim view of Madison County bolstering its economy through asbestos litigation.
Lester Brickman, professor of law at Cardozo Law School and an expert on asbestos and class action litigation, has been highly critical of Madison County courts over the past decade.
"Every cell phone operator, virtually every large company in various industries has been dragged into Madison County and had to pay ransom to get out," he said.
Three local firms process the vast majority of Madison County asbestos litigation.
The Simmons law firm, which currently employs 55 attorneys, touts more than $3 billion dollars in verdicts and settlements, according to its website. The firm is headquartered in an expansive office in Alton, and has satellite offices in St. Louis, Chicago, San Francisco and El Segundo, Calif.
Gori, Julian & Associates, with an office located on Main Street in Edwardsville directly across from the courthouse, has won more than $1 billion and employ 15 attorneys. The Goldenberg Heller firm of Edwardsville has also brought in more than $1 billion, employing 13 attorneys.
Add to the calculation that defendants hire local counsel as well, and the impact of asbestos litigation on Madison County's economy is even deeper.
But, as local law firms expand and thrive, some businesses leaders are increasingly concerned about far-reaching effects the litigation climate has on the local business economy.
A past board member of the Southwest Madison County Chamber commented that the judicial atmosphere in Madison County is not a good thing for business.
While noting that there are definite winners - law firms - and losers – businesses - this member of the business community, who remains unnamed for legal reasons, said, "I can only guess at how many businesses have chosen not to set up shop here because of the litigation climate."
"The important thing to business leaders is how to remove barriers and attract more businesses to the region," he went on.
This business leader made clear that he and others have compassion for asbestos victims, but, as he said, it is the disproportionate treatment of defendants in Madison County that scares businesses away and may harm the region's larger economic interests.
Ed Murnane, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League, said the impact of litigation on an economy is "very difficult" to document.
"However, an economy based off of litigation is not palatable to many people. You want a balanced economy – businesses that make products may in fact be more palatable," Murnane said.
Consumers, workers and investors also pay a price for litigation, some suggest.
"These costs and inefficiencies are nominally shouldered by business (an obstacle to the raw competitive position of manufacturers) but are ultimately borne by consumers in the form of higher product prices, by workers in the form of lower wages, and by investors in the form of lower returns." wrote Byron Schlomach, Ph.D. and William Peacock, III, of the Texas Public Policy Foundation in "A Review of Asbestos Litigation."
In a follow-up to this article, the Record will examine specific asbestos cases from time of filing to settlement.