The Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL) on Wednesday announced its support for three of the four Madison County judges seeking retention in November, as well as St. Clair County Circuit Judge Stephen McGlynn in the Fifth District Appellate Court race.
Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder and Swansea attorney Judy Cates, who is running against McGlynn as a Democrat, did not receive the group's endorsement.
ICJL President Ed Murnane, who doubles as chairman of the group's political action committee JUSTPAC, said in a statement that "voters looking to send a message against Madison County's ongoing addiction to asbestos litigation would be wise to vote 'no' on Judge Crowder."
Murnane said last year's controversy over contributions to Crowder's campaign committee "demonstrates the taint the asbestos docket paints" on the county's judicial system, which he says continues to attract asbestos lawsuits with out-of-state plaintiffs at "historic levels."
Crowder's committee late last year accepted $30,000 in donations from a few area asbestos law firms and lawyers shortly after Crowder set the asbestos docket for 2013.
Once news broke of the donations, her committee returned the money and Chief Judge Ann Callis removed Crowder from presiding over asbestos matters, a move Murnane said showed "great wisdom" on Callis' part.
Responding to a recently-launched grassroots campaign against the retention of all four Madison County judges seeking retention, Crowder told The Record earlier this month that it is "absolutely legal for campaign committees to accept donations from attorneys.
Crowder, who received a "recommended" rating by an Illinois State Bar Association poll, said she instructed her committee to refund the donations after the contributions were criticized "because the last thing you want as a judge is someone questioning your integrity."
Although Murnane said the situation was "unfortunate" and believes Crowder is "a well-meaning and competent judge," he urges citizens to vote against her retention as way to send a message about the county's asbestos docket.
Citizens for Judicial Integrity (CFJI), the grassroots committee behind the anti-retention campaign, also points to the controversy over Crowder's campaign donations as a reason to vote "no" on the ballot next month.
The group, which contends that Crowder's situation creates a perception that justice is for sale in Madison County, also wants to unseat Callis and Circuit Judges Dave Hylla and John Knight.
CFJI's website notes that while the four judges "ran as a team promising reform in 2006," Madison County has seen an explosion of lawsuits that adversely affects the business community.
The group this month received the support of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and recently created a political action committee. Records from the Illinois State Board of Election show CFJI had $532.08 as of Saturday.
Murnane said the ICJL supports Callis and Hylla because they "have acted boldly to reform parts of the county's imbalance of justice."
Callis, he said, has created new rules and programs as chief justice, during which time Madison County has seen class action filings drop from 106 in 2003 to less than five now.
From 2003 to 2011, Murnane said, the overall number of non-asbestos cases have also decreased from 1,148 to 498.
Murnane praised Hylla for his fairness, as well as work with the county's medical malpractice mandatory mediation program. He said Knight "has always shown class both as a former prosecutor and judge."
In addition, the ICJL this week endorsed McGlynn, a Republican, for the Fifth District Appellate Court over Cates.
Murnane said his group supported McGlynn in his 2006 bid for the appellate court against Bruce Stewart and "have made efforts to generate voter support and financial support for him" this year.
Disclosure records show JUSTPAC has given McGlynn's campaign committee at least $25,000 since this summer.
"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," Murnane said in reference to a short stint McGlynn served on the appeals panel in 2004. "He should continue to wear a black robe."
In regards to Cates, Murnane said the ICJL "cannot think of a worse candidate for this position."
"Judy Cates is infamous for her work as a millionaire class action lawyer," he said. "Democrat primary voters rejected her candidacy in 2008 and we can only hope many of them will choose her Republican opponent."
In addition to the ICJL's endorsement, McGlynn has received the support of the Illinois Chamber, Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, Republican Congressman John Shimkus, Illinois Family PAC, Illinois Citizens for Life PAC, Illinois Federation for Right-to-Life PAC and the Illinois State Rifle Association.
Cates' campaign website states that she has support from the following groups: Illinois AFL-CIO, Illinois Federation of Teachers, Illinois State Association of the Nation Association of Letter Carriers, the Southwestern Illinois Central Labor Council and the Democratic Central Committees of Madison, Monroe and St. Clair counties.