Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan has received more than $90,000 this year in campaign contributions from asbestos attorneys - yet five years ago he called for an investigation of Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder when it was learned that she had accepted $30,000 from the same group.
Dunstan, Democrat, is locked in a bitter battle with county treasurer Kurt Prenzler, Republican, for control of Madison County government.
In December 2011, Dunstan made statements that Crowder's acceptance of contributions from asbestos lawyers who practiced in her asbestos court should be looked at to determine if they violated the state's Code of Judicial Conduct.
"Importantly, the acceptance of certain campaign contributions creates a perception of conflict and negatively impacts the image of Madison County, the courts and Judge Crowder," Dunstan said in a press release.
In Crowder's situation, she accepted $10,000 each from the Simmons firm of Alton, Goldenberg Heller and Gori Julian of Edwardsville, days after she entered an order that was favorable to them in valuable trial settings. The order awarded 82 percent of trial slots to those three firms. Later, then chief judge Ann Callis re-assigned Crowder from her role as asbestos judge.
In spite of the negative attention, Crowder was retained by voters in 2012. And throughout some intense media coverage, she maintained she did nothing wrong and did nothing to violate the law. She also returned the $30,000 in contributions.
Dunstan at the time applauded Callis's decision to reassign Crowder.
"As Madison County Board Chairman, I appreciate the quick action of Chief Judge Ann Callis and the other judges in the 3rd Judicial Circuit to remove Judge Crowder from her former docket," Dunstan stated.
"However, despite that action, I believe the judicial review I have requested is warranted."
Dunstan suggested that a review by the Judicial Inquiry Board could restore public confidence in the system.
"During my tenure as chairman, Democrats and Republicans have worked together in order to better serve the people of Madison County," he stated. "But this issue is not about politics, it is about the people of Madison County knowing their judges and elected officials are ethical and totally above board in all their actions."
Dunstan has served as chairman since 2002. The position of board chairman pays approximately $97,000 annually.
Of the $91,680 in asbestos contributions received by Dunstan's campaign committee, more than half or $54,600 came from the Gori Julian firm. its founding partners and their spouses, as well as another attorney.
Within the last few days, 10 attorneys of the Simmons firm contributed $2,000 each for a total of $20,000.
Houston, Texas-based firms Shrader & Associates and Bailey Peavy Bailey each contributed $2,216.
St. Louis-based Maune Raichle Schmickle Wohlford Morris & Kusmierczak each gave $2,216. Attorney Benjamin Schmickle individually contributed $1,000.
Richardson Patrick Westbrook Brickman of Edwardsville gave $2,216.
Dunstan enjoys a fund-raising advantage of about four to one, having raised at least $205,442 year to date.
Prenzler has raised a total of $50,725 year to date.