More than $35 million in trial lawyer contributions to elected officials in Illinois during the past decade and a half further evidences that justice is for sale in a state that has become "a plaintiff's paradise," according to watchdog groups.
In the third report in a series that began in late 2002, Justice for Sale III details the staggering damage litigation appears to be doing to the state's jobs market. The report put together by Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL), and was supported by Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch (ILAW) and the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA).
The amount of money flowing from the plaintiffs' side, firms and family members into campaign for office seekers comes down to about $264 ever hour of the day for the past 15 years. Much of those campaign contributions went to asbestos-related litigation, cases that numbered more than 13,000 in 15 years for a single courthouse.
About 98 percent of these campaign contributions went to “incumbents in Springfield and other democrats,” the report stated.
“During the study period, Madison County set an infamous national record for the most new class action filings in a year, and a statewide medical liability crisis threatened critical care for Illinois patients,” said John Pastuovic, ICJL president.
Close connections between personal injury lawyers and judges have given Madison and St. Clair counties the perennial distinction of being "two of the worst judicial hellholes," according to Travis Akin, CEO of Illinois Law Abuse Watch.
"This study proves that personal injury lawyers are gaming the system to their advantage by funneling millions of dollars in campaign contributions to Illinois judges, who continue to allow junk lawsuits that have nothing to do with Illinois to move forward here," Akin told the Record. That prompts "the question, ‘Is justice for sale in Illinois?’"
The impact isn’t just drowning dockets in “speculative and sometimes fraudulent” cases. It’s also scaring away employers, along with the jobs they could bring to a state that desperately needs them, according to the report, he said.
“The reality is that creating new and meaningful jobs is the solution for nearly every other major issue facing Illinois today,” Akin said. And the best way to rebound “is for voters to elect legislators who will embrace Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed lawsuit reforms, such as venue reform, to stop personal injury lawyers from venue shopping for favorable Illinois court jurisdictions.”
Hope for taking the politics out of Illinois courtroom was voted down, 4-3 along party lines, when the state’s Supreme Court decided against a bipartisan ballot measure that would have allowed voters to decide whether an independent body should draw nonpartisan maps for judicial and legislative districts, according to the report.
Still, voters will have their chance to at least vote for who should sit on the bench. And it matters who serves on the bench, because electing good judges who rule based on common sense and fairness will help end Illinois lawsuit abuse, according to Akin.
“Voters also need to pay attention to judicial elections and make sure they are supporting judges who will dismiss frivolous cases and prevent the abuse of our courts, which drives up the cost of doing business and ultimately leads to an exodus of jobs and opportunities," he said.