Illinois Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Doug Whitley announced the Chamber's support of a grassroots organization, "Citizens for Judicial Integrity."
The organization is campaigning against the retention of Madison County circuit Judges David Hylla, John Knight, Barbara Crowder and Chief Judge Ann Callis.
Whitley spoke with reporters and members of the community Wednesday in the Madison County administration building cafeteria.
Citizens for Judicial Integrity has "an uphill push," according to Whitley.
He called Madison County a "litigation haven," and put part of the responsibility for that on the judges running for retention.
"We think these judges could have rejected a lot of these lawsuits as non jurisdictional," he said. "Judges should be perceived as fair and non-biased."
Whitley said he wants voters to remove Crowder because she accepted $30,000 in campaign donations from three area asbestos law firms three days after assigning them a majority of 2013 asbestos trial settings.
Though Crowder returned the donations, Whitley contends Crowder exposed a sentiment that, "It is OK to do that."
"Would she not have given the money back if it had not been exposed?" he said.
"Crowder has engaged in campaign finance solicitation. That true or not, gives the impression that justice in Madison County is for sale. Because she's part of the team, the whole team suffers."
The Illinois Chamber said it embraces the goals of Citizens for Judicial Integrity, being spearheaded by Highland resident Phil Chapman, though it has yet to provide financial support.
The organization is not registered with the Illinois State Board of Elections. It is not required to until it raises a threshold figure of $3,000.
Since the organization has not yet raised that threshold amount, the Chamber has not donated any funds. According to state election code, if an established organization donates funds to a fledgling committee, that fledgling committee would be negated and considered an extension of the donating organization.
Whitley said that when the organization raises $3,000, the Illinois Chamber may donate $1,200 or $1,300.
Whitley described Chapman as "the local star" expected to make an upcoming announcement about the Citizens for Judicial Integrity's efforts.
"The citizens and voters of Madison County need to be relieved of the burden of the reputation of this county for being anti-business, where companies are shaken down in the courthouse," Whitley said.
Whitley described the Madison County courthouse as a "litigation haven," a courthouse "quick to embrace lawsuits from around the world."
"We think it's wrong when the largest growing industry in the area is lawyers," Whitley said.
Whitley said the election of Justice Lloyd Karmeier to the Illinois Supreme Court was a "important historical moment when Illinois said tort reform matters."
Illinois' three counties singled out as "judicial hellholes" are Madison and St. Clair counties and Cook County in Chicago.
"We're trying to make our state more pro-business and pro-job," Whitley said.
As far as the other judges besides Crowder running for retention, Whitley described Callis as "decent."
"I don't think she's done enough," he said. "If she's retained I hope she gets the message that she needs to do more. The judges in Madison County need to say more about what is acceptable.
"The old ways continue," he said. "It's not what they've done. It's what they haven't done."
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Illinois Chamber of Commerce
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