Madison - St. Clair Record

Monday, February 24, 2020

From injustice to justice: Lessons learned from the Madison County tobacco litigation

Their View

By Kurtis B. Reeg, partner at Goldberg Segalla | Jun 28, 2016

General court 02

Finally—it’s over (again) (presumably) (hopefully).

Article 1, Section 12 of the Bill of Rights to the Illinois Constitution states that all citizens “shall obtain justice by law, freely, completely, and promptly.” The Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees all citizens due process and equal protection under the law.


Victoria down the street is a person. Victoria, and several of her neighbors, work at the toy company down the street. The toy company down the street is a person under the law. Under the Illinois and U.S. Constitutions, both Victoria and the toy company “shall obtain justice freely, completely and promptly.” Not in the Madison County light tobacco litigation.

A case filed in 2000; a $10.1 billion verdict/judgment entered in 2003; a $12 billion bond initially ordered; the Illinois Supreme Court reverses the judgment in 2005; appeal to U.S. Supreme Court denied; Illinois Supreme Court finalizes its ruling in 2006; 6 years, case over right? Nope.

The smoker plaintiffs attempt to re-open the case in 2008 by creatively arguing the state lower trial court should overrule the state’s highest supreme court. Long story short—the case goes up and down the court system; 8 more years; 16 total years; case now over (presumably) for the second (last?) time in 2016. That’s not free justice, not prompt justice, not due process to reasonable minds.

The definitions of justice include: fairness; justness; fair play; equity; objectivity; neutrality; morality. What are the lessons learned from this litigation? Not good. Even the dissenters in the Illinois Supreme Court acknowledged the “regretful history of this case.” An optimist may say complex cases take a long time. A cynic may say there was an attempted hijacking of the judicial system from within itself. The average citizen wonders why and how could this happen—how could a case be tried and decided, only to take a greater amount of time, another 8 years, trying to take a mulligan, a do-over?

Lawyers and judges are required to takes oaths of office in which they agree to support the U.S. and Illinois constitutions. The citizenry has, or needs to have, faith and confidence in their judicial and legal officers, and the process. A fair day in court is what all persons, all citizens (single or corporate), expect and to which they are entitled; the constitutions promise us that.

These plaintiffs alleged they were harmed; they sought their day in court; they had it; in 2006 they lost. The defendant, the employer of thousands of citizens, spent millions in fees and expenses on the case, and received no reimbursement upon prevailing, rather than having that money available for salaries and benefits for its employees, other benefits for its customers or the public, charitable causes and other good deeds. The processes seen in this lawsuit should be a wake-up call for the citizenry of Illinois, or justice there may be turned on its head.

Kurtis Reeg, partner at Goldberg Segalla, is an attorney licensed in four states, including Illinois, and has practiced 36 years. He was asked by the trial court to serve as a special master in this case. To his knowledge no special master was ever appointed.

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