Madison - St. Clair Record

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Answers to ICJL questionnaire points to differences among appellate court candidates

By Ann Maher | Oct 17, 2016


All appellate court candidates running in the state's Fifth District answered questions posed by the Illinois Civil Justice League (ICJL) ranging from qualifications to their views on civil litigation reforms and what, if any, changes they'd like to see.

The responses of candidates running for the vacancy created through the retirement of Justice Bruce Stewart - Madison County Circuit Judge John Barberis, Republican, and Williamson County Circuit Judge Brad Bleyer, Democrat - show some sharp distinctions, with geography likely playing a particular role on the subject of frivolous litigation.


Barberis

Barberis, who presides in a court which has highest litigation index in the state with 8.255 lawsuits filed per 1,000 residents, stated that existing laws inadequately deter and penalize abusive litigation practices.

The ICJL studied civil court filings across the state, producing a litigation index report in September, as well details on the significance of trial lawyer campaign contributions in certain court systems.

Bleyer, who hails from southern Illinois and in which the litigation index is approximately 1.413 per 1,000 residents, said the issue is not a major problem where he has practiced law and serves as a judge.

Their answers were published originally at judges.net and are re-printed here.

Circuit Judge John Barberis:

State the qualifications and experiences that make you qualified to serve on the bench in Illinois.

I am qualified to serve as an appellate court judge in Illinois due to the fact that I have been an elected circuit judge for over one year during which time I have presided over hundreds of civil cases including MR (miscellaneous remedies), AR (arbitration cases), CH (chancery), LM (civil cases with a damages demand of between $10,001 and $50,000) and L (civil cases with a damages demand of $50,001 and above) dockets.

In that time I have handled six jury trials to verdict and many more bench trials. Prior to becoming a judge I was a practicing attorney for nearly 18 years. In that time I practiced in many areas of the law including family, business formations and business law in general, personal injury, constitutional law, title work and real estate, traffic and criminal defense, probate law, and class action work. I was a part-time Assistant State’s Attorney for Madison County for 15 years, during which time I handled everything including child support enforcement, traffic and misdemeanor prosecution, and mental health cases. I have served as City Attorney for Collinsville, Illinois, as Corporate Attorney for Gateway Convention Center in Collinsville and Zoning Officer for the Village of St. Jacob, Illinois.

One prominent Illinois judicial evaluation survey asks attorneys to evaluate candidates on integrity, impartiality, legal ability and temperament. Critique yourself in these four areas as to how they make you qualified to serve on the bench.

(I would start by saying that the “One prominent Illinois judicial evaluation survey” mentioned in this question - the ISBA judicial candidate survey - has been used as a partisan smear tactic in Madison County on more than a few occasions. The survey conducted in 2014 during my campaign for the Madison County Circuit Judge position indicated that 92 attorney’s had responded to questions directed about me. I assure you that more than half those 92 would not have known me had I been standing in front of them at the time. I believe they were from politically active firms who actively seek to skew the results for their own political parties needs. These same lawyers and law firms, I believe, contributed over $140,000 to my opponent in that race. In that race, I refused to knowingly accept money from lawyers or law firms as a matter of principle).

I consider integrity, the quality of possessing and steadfastly adhering to high moral principles or professional standards, to be one of the foremost qualities a judge must possess. In that regard, I believe that I am very well qualified as I have always held myself to very high moral and professional principles. Anyone who knows me knows that my integrity is unquestionable.

As for impartiality, I have never played favorites in any aspect of my career. One of the main reasons that I decided to run for circuit judge was to restore the public’s faith in a fair and impartial bench here in Madison County in light of some of the numerous scandals involving favoritism to certain political parties and individuals. My successful career over the past 18 years is testament to my legal ability. I have never been reprimanded by any Bar Association or disciplinary committee. I have never had a complaint made about me to the Judicial Inquiry Board to date. I have not yet had a single decision of mine overturned by any higher court to date.

As a circuit judge and before that as an assistant state’s attorney and a family law practitioner, I have demonstrated the ability to keep a cool and even temperament while dealing at times with irate and difficult people.

Describe the case in which you are most proud of your work as a lawyer.

While many cases come to mind, including cases involving helping parents and children to deal with horrific or abusive family matters to business cases involving fraudulent transactions that harmed small business owners, one case comes to mind as the one in which I am most proud. That case is a class action case that I filed on behalf of nearly 10,000 victims of conspiracy and fraud perpetrated on them by certain Madison County elected officials and certain tax buyers. While the case is still ongoing at this time, it seeks recovery of millions of dollars defrauded from the victims by the defendants.

Name one change you would make in the Illinois court system.

The one change that I would like to make in the Illinois court system would be one to help expedite cases so that individuals and businesses can get through the onerous matter of dealing with a lawsuit and get on with their lives and businesses.

Are there civil litigation reforms that you would like to see enacted to remedy particular problems that you have detected, either as a practicing lawyer or as a sitting judge? Are there reforms that would benefit the civil justice system? What needs to be changed? Should the enactment of any such changes be the province of the legislature, the Supreme Court or by Constitutional amendment?

I would support legislative action that would increase penalties to further deter frivolous lawsuits. I believe that such changes would benefit the civil justice system in Illinois by unclogging our overburdened system so that cases with merit could be handled quicker than they are now. These types of changes would be the province of the legislature.

Do you believe that our judicial system adequately deters and penalizes frivolous litigation? If not, what reforms would you like to see?

Based on the number of meritless lawsuits still being filed in Illinois and the very rare instances of plaintiffs, their attorneys and law firms being sanctioned for doing so, it is clear that the existing laws are inadequate to stop such behavior. I believe that stronger sanctions and codifying the judicial actions to be taken in the case of frivolous lawsuits would be helpful in reducing the frequency of meritless, frivolous lawsuits.

Do you believe the Illinois Constitution precludes legislative establishment of limitations on civil damages? Are there or should there be distinctions among economic, non-economic and punitive damages?

It is my belief that the Illinois Constitution, at this time, does preclude legislative establishment of limitations on civil damages.

Until such time as a constitutional amendment is enacted, the issue of runaway juries will remain a concern in all civil cases with only the Judges power of remittitur to reign in excessive awards. I further believe that there are distinctions among economic, non-economic and punitive damages.

Circuit Judge Brad Bleyer:

State the qualifications and experiences that make you qualified to serve on the bench in Illinois.

I was honored to be appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court to the Circuit bench in 2004 and it has been a real privilege to serve as a judge in Southern Illinois for almost twelve years. As a judge, I have tried my best to work hard, apply common sense, treat people fairly and respectfully, and rule impartially. Before my appointment to the bench, I was a practicing attorney for twenty-one years. I was proud to receive an AV peer rating by other lawyers which is the highest rating for legal ability and integrity. I have represented litigants in the appellate court on many occasions. Before attending law school, I had numerous jobs including factory work, teaching, and coaching. Hopefully, all of my prior work has helped me reach a level of experience, maturity, and patience that qualify me to serve as an appellate court judge.

One prominent Illinois judicial evaluation survey asks attorneys to evaluate candidates on integrity, impartiality, legal ability and temperament. Critique yourself in these four areas as to how they make you qualified to serve on the bench.

As a teacher, coach, practicing attorney, and judge, I have always understood the importance of treating people fairly and impartially. While serving as a judge, I have been evaluated on two separate occasions by attorneys throughout Southern Illinois who have represented all types of litigants on both sides of cases including plaintiffs, defendants, patients, doctors, hospitals, employers, employees, insurance companies, and insureds. My composite approval ratings in each category are as follows:

A. Integrity-98.5%

B. Impartiality-98.0%

C. Legal Ability-99.0%

D. Temperament-98.5%

These ratings and this feedback are important to me as a judge and I will continue to work very hard every day to maintain the confidence of those appearing in my courtroom.

Describe the case in which you are most proud of your work as a lawyer.

It would be difficult for me to identify a specific case of which I am most proud of my work. I can say that over 21 years of practice, the cases I am most proud of are the many occasions where a person would need civil legal help and just not be able to afford it. I would try my best to help them at no charge. Often it was a simple matter, but it was important to them. This is what most lawyers do and it really is an important obligation of our profession.

Name one change you would make in the Illinois court system.

A judge’s role is not really to make changes in the court system, but rather to work with attorneys, litigants, clerks, and other support staff to make the system work as well as possible, and as fairly as possible, within the parameters of the law. Within that framework, judges should be open to changes that hopefully improve the system including electronic filing, cameras in the courtroom, implementation and improvement of veterans courts and drug courts, and improved continuing legal education.

Are there civil litigation reforms that you would like to see enacted to remedy particular problems that you have detected, either as a practicing lawyer or as a sitting judge? Are there reforms that would benefit the civil justice system? What needs to be changed? Should the enactment of any such changes be the province of the legislature, the Supreme Court or by Constitutional amendment?

Judicial ethics, in my opinion, prohibit any judge from advocating for specific reforms in civil litigation. Such reforms are legislative functions. I have seen many such reforms enacted by the legislature including municipal tort immunities, requirements for certificates of merit in medical negligence litigation, abolition of the Structural Work Act, and many others. The court’s role is to apply the law, fairly and impartially to all litigants. I am concerned about the issue of financing of judicial campaigns in Illinois, particularly at the appellate and supreme court level. It is difficult to maintain the public’s confidence in the fairness and impartiality of the system when large amounts of money are donated by special interest groups. In my opinion, reforms in judicial campaign financing are needed.

Do you believe that our judicial system adequately deters and penalizes frivolous litigation? If not, what reforms would you like to see?

I have honestly not perceived frivolous litigation as being a major problem in the Southern Illinois region where I have practiced and served as a judge. Summary judgment procedures provide for termination of meritless cases in an expedient manner. In those cases going to trial, I have witnessed countless juries work very hard to reach fair and just results. Any specific reform to deter frivolous litigation would need to come from the legislature and then, appropriately followed by the court.

Do you believe the Illinois Constitution precludes legislative establishment of limitations on civil damages? Are there or should there be distinctions among economic, non-economic and punitive damages?

In my opinion, the Illinois Judicial Canon of Ethics preclude any judicial candidate from discussing his or her interpretation of the Illinois Constitution on specific issues.

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Organizations in this Story

Illinois Fifth District Appellate Court Illinois Supreme Court Madison County Williamson County

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