Much confusion will bombard Madison County voters over the next few weeks as claims are made about the judicial system. And voting on judges is as important as ever. Trial lawyers are again contributing big bucks into the local Democratic Party. Tea Party leaders are urging voters to Vote No on judges.
Voters need to know that some judges are working to change the image of Madison County as a judicial hellhole, and chief among them are Chief Judge Ann Callis and Judge Dave Hylla. In the six years since we cautiously chose not to oppose retention, Callis and Hylla have acted boldly to reform parts of the county's imbalance of justice.
Judge Callis instituted strict rules to govern judicial substitutions and admittance to out-of-state attorneys. With the addition of the federal legislative action on the Class Action Fairness Act, we have seen class action filings diminish from 106 in 2003 to less than five a year now.
We're amazed by the number of defense attorneys who praise Judge Hylla for his fairness. Judge Hylla showed his commitment to reform by leading the county's medical malpractice mandatory mediation program, where cases settle outside the normal litigation process by a rate of nearly 42 percent. That's why medical malpractice filings have been cut by more than a half down more than 45 a year to less than 20 a year.
Doctors in the region realize this and the opposition to local judges in 2004 and 2006 has dissipated and there are few calls from the medical community to "throw the bums out." We've heard none.
Equally amazing, the overall number of non-asbestos cases in Madison County has dropped from 1,148 in 2003 to just 498 in 2011. That progress FINALLY puts Madison County on par with all other downstate counties in regards to lawsuit filings.
Judge Knight, who has the unfortunate connection to Madison County by being the resident judge in Third Circuit-neighboring Bond County, has always shown class both as a former prosecutor and judge.
That's why we recommend a YES vote on Judges Callis, Hylla and Knight.
However, not all is good in Madison County. Out-of-state plaintiffs continue to flood Madison County with asbestos lawsuits at historic levels. Our research has shown that 90 percent of these lawsuits are filed by plaintiffs with no connection to the state, much less Madison County. We've even pushed local judges and plaintiffs' attorneys for a public conversation about this issue.
Instead, debate about this issue has centered on controversy, most recently the $30,000 that asbestos firms gave to Judge Barb Crowder's campaign, just days after her decision to continue the controversial "slotting" of future asbestos cases to the same contributing firms. This controversy best demonstrates the taint the asbestos docket paints the entire Madison County judicial system.
In our conversations with Judge Crowder, we are persuaded to vouch that she's a well-meaning and competent judge. Why she chose to serve as head of the asbestos docket is unfortunate, but not nearly as unfortunate as her husband and campaign manager's decision to seek out donations from those asbestos firms. Judge Callis showed great wisdom by immediately removing Crowder from the controversial docket, and voters looking to send a message against Madison County's ongoing addiction to asbestos litigation would be wise to vote NO on Judge Crowder.
Also on the November ballot in Southern Illinois, Former Illinois Trial Lawyer Association president Judy Cates is seeking a seat on the Appellate Court.
We cannot think of a worse candidate for this position. Judy Cates is infamous for her work as a millionaire class action lawyer. Democrat primary voters rejected her candidacy in 2008 and we can only hope many of them will choose her Republican opponent, former Appellate Justice Steve McGlynn.
We obviously endorse McGlynn.
And we have made efforts to generate voter support and financial support for him. Voters should realize that whomever wins the Appellate Court seat – McGlynn or hopefully not Cates – will hold it for ten years – six years longer than Barack Obama would hold the White House if he wins, or two years longer than Mitt Romney would hold the White House if he wins and is re-elected to a second term.
McGlynn has demonstrated a sense of fairness and common sense on both the Appellate Court in the past and on the St. Clair County Circuit court right now. He should continue to wear a black robe.