Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch has released a study showing that Madison and St. Clair counties, as frequent litigation targets, have incurred $17.1 million in costs in a four year period.
The group's executive director Travis Akin said county residents suffer not only through direct costs, but also in the loss of funding for schools, roads, parks and police.
Akin said the study was conducted by compiling data found in comprehensive financial reports released by each county auditor.
“If you build a judicial hell hole, they will come,” Akin told the Record. “This study shows not only the sheer dollar amount of litigation against Madison and St. Clair counties, but it shows that those two counties in particular are targeted."
By contrast, the surrounding counties of Bond, Clinton and Monroe incurred no litigation costs during the same period of time, according to I-LAW's study.
Akin said that in addition to judgments and settlements paid by the counties, millions also have gone to outside lawyers to pay defense costs.
While costs paid by counties to lawyers is not available on either county's website, the I-LAW study cites a media report showing that from 2010-2013, St. Clair County paid $2.6 million to
outside law firms and Madison County spent $1.2 million in taxpayer dollars
on outside law firms.
I-LAW makes two recommendations for reform: encourage local judges from tolerating abusive litigation and stop settling frivolous claims.
Akin cited a policy adopted by the city of Chicago in 2009 indicating that it would fight many of the suits filed against its police department, which, according to I-LAW, resulted in a steep reduction in the number of suits filed in the first year the policy was adopted.
He also said that voters need to be more aware of who they are electing to office.
"Voters should do
their part to stop lawsuit abuse in the Metro-East by learning more about judicial
candidates, including whether or not they take campaign contributions from personal
injury lawyers and whether they sanction lawyers who file frivolous lawsuits," he stated in the report.
He said that plaintiff lawyers have flocked to Madison and St. Clair County
courts for a reason, and that it is up to judges to restore balance.
“We’re really wanting to highlight the importance of judges,” said Akin. “The importance of judges and the importance of Illinois voters making sure when they go to the polls, they are taking those races seriously, because good judges do matter. If we’re going to change the legal climate in Madison and St. Clair counties, we need to have reform-minded judges serving people in those two counties.”