Madison County Bar Association responds to court critics

By Christina Stueve Hodges | Oct 24, 2012

The Madison County Bar Association responded to what it calls “false accusations” made by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and the Citizens for Judicial Integrity that “justice in Madison County is “for sale.”

The association fired out a press release late Tuesday afternoon in response to comments made by Illinois Chamber of Commerce President Doug Whitley.

Whitley visited Madison County Oct. 3, joining a press conference organized by Citizens for Judicial Integrity president Phil Chapman.

The group has been involved in a “vote no on retention campaign,” aimed at Madison County Circuit Judges Ann Callis, Barbara Crowder, Dave Hylla and John Knight.

Edwardsville attorney Dave Jones, and first vice president of the Bar Association, fired back.

“We were appalled by those comments, as a group, as officers of the Madison County Bar Association,” he said..

“These judges who are up for retention have the utmost in integrity. They follow the law. They are not influenced by money or who’s on the other side.

“We felt we had to respond to the out of town interests who claim the judges are bought. They are not bought.”

Jones is encouraging voters to view the Illinois State Bar Association bar poll, which polls Madison County lawyers.

“The poll shows all four of these judges are deemed well qualified. Especially in integrity,” Jones said.

Jones said when he arrived in Madison County as a defense lawyer, lawyers did not try cases.

“They were completely controlled by the Democratic Party,” he said. “Now you have a judiciary of fair-minded people.”

The Madison County Bar Association’s goal is to elevate the integrity and civility in the legal profession, the association stated in a news release.

And while its by-laws prohibit endorsement of any political candidate or ballot issue, it stated it would “respond when false accusations are made against our legal community.”

Citizens for Judicial Integrity has been critical of a “lawsuit explosion” in Madison County, saying that hurts the local economy and damages the local healthcare system.

(Madison County hosts the nation’s largest asbestos docket).

The group also says donations to judicial candidates from area lawyers taints the court’s reputation.

Group organizer Chapman also says the “Crowder scandal” gives rise to concerns.

Last December, Crowder accepted $30,000 in campaign donations from lawyers at three area asbestos firms. She returned the money following public criticism after assigning those firms 82 percent of the asbestos docket for 2013.

Crowder has denied any wrongdoing and has said the campaign contributions were legal and reported.

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