In a crowded courtroom recently in Madison County, Associate Judge Clarence Harrison listened as defense attorneys argued to end the trial "reservation" system for asbestos cases while plaintiffs' attorneys made a passionate plea to keep the status quo.
Associate Judge Harrison took over the asbestos docket after Judge Barbara Crowder created a national stir when she awarded 82 percent of the 2013 asbestos docket trial slots to three law firms that four days later donated more than $30,000 to her campaign.
It's bad enough that Judge Crowder's actions to give future trial slots to big campaign contributors looked like a clear quid pro quo, but it's just as bad that she reserved all those 2013 trial slots for cases that haven't even been filed. This kind of questionable behavior encourages personal injury layers to file lawsuits here, even lawsuits that have nothing to do with the Metro-East.
A recent study found that only about 1 in 10 of Madison County's asbestos cases have any connection to the area, with most plaintiffs living in other states.
As importantly, roughly 65 percent of the asbestos cases first set for trial in 2012 did not exist when its trial slot was created. And a review of 73 cases on three 2012 trial dockets revealed that just nine of those cases had a connection to Madison County.
For too long, judges have allowed Metro-East courts to be turned into a destination docket for personal injury lawyers from all across the country. Madison County judges are allowing personal injury lawyers from across the country to clog our courts with cases that have no connection to the Metro-East, delaying justice for local residents who are waiting for their cases to be heard.
When Metro-East judges import out-of-state lawsuits, they export jobs from our area. Businesses expand or relocate in places where the legal system is considered fair and balanced, so we should not expect a business to expand or relocate in an area that is nationally known as a destination docket and was recently ranked as the fifth-worst "judicial hellhole" in the country.
If we want to create new jobs and not new lawsuits, Judge Harrison must act to restore common sense to our courts and reform the destination docket.
At the end of the hearing on the future of the asbestos docket, Judge Harrison promised to return soon with a verdict. Voters will be watching closely and will have their own chance to render a verdict on the fairness of the judiciary this November when they head to the polls.
Voters will be watching to see if judges continue to award future trial slots to personal injury lawyers who in return make big campaign contributions to those judges or if those judges will take steps to restore common sense and fairness to Metro-East courts.
The time for reform is now.