Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch Executive Director Travis Akin leveled a stinging rebuke of the courts in St. Clair and Madison counties today over recent moves made by judges.
Akin called the decisions of Twentieth Circuit judges John Baricevic, Robert Haida and Robert LeChien to run for election rather than retention "gaming the system."
Running for retention requires a higher level of voter approval at a minimum of 60 percent, versus a simple majority when running for election.
Baricevic, who serves as chief judge of the circuit, has said the decision to vacate their seats is not only legitimate, but furthermore subjects them to greater scrutiny than running for retention. He explained that the three, who will run on the Democratic ticket, would have to face potential competition in a primary race in March as well as in the general election in November.
In a press release and a traveling billboard, Akin used a football metaphor to make his point.
"These judges want to change the rules mid-game for their own personal benefit," he stated. "Taking a page from a football referee’s rule book, it’s time to blow the whistle on these types of shenanigans and throw the penalty flag on unsportsmanlike judicial conduct.”
Akin said he doesn't deny that the strategy being used by the judges is "technically legal."
"It just doesn't pass the smell test," he said. "They are gaming the system for their own advantage.
"It's not fair to the people who look to the courts for justice..We want judges who are persons of integrity and follow the law and value the law, and do what's right."
Akin also planned a rally at the Madison County courthouse, where he was expected to criticize the recent appointment of a young asbestos attorney, Jennifer Hightower, to associate judge.
He criticized Hightower's selection, made by the court's elected judges, stating that she "is only six years removed from graduating law school," and that she came from an asbestos firm - Simmons of Alton - which is responsible for filing the most cases in Madison County.
"Through huge campaign contributions to judges and getting one of their own appointed to the judiciary, it seems like the personal injury lawyers have fixed the game in their favor,” Akin stated.
"They win, but we lose, because these judicial shenanigans and the frequent filing of lawsuits here that have no common sense connection to the Metro-East have cemented our region’s reputation as a haven for personal injury lawyers and a hell for local businesses who are frequently the targets of these junk lawsuits," he stated.
"The Metro-East’s lawsuit abuse epidemic is making it extremely hard to attract new employers and the badly-needed jobs they would bring.”
Akin said that that viewpoint is backed up by the release last month of the "2015 Lawsuit Climate Survey," conducted by Harris Poll, which ranked Illinois near the bottom of the nation in terms of its lawsuit environment – 48th worst of the 50 states. The survey also ranked Madison County the third-worst city or county for lawsuit fairness.
The survey results came from interviews of more than 1,200 corporate lawyers and senior executives at companies with more than $100 million in revenue. Over 75 percent of the business leaders surveyed by Harris Poll for this report say lawsuit climate is a “significant factor” in determining where to expand and grow.
The courthouse rallies are part of a weeklong series of events in recognition of Lawsuit Abuse Awareness Week” in Illinois.