Madison - St. Clair Record

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Tillery suit against economists highlights relationships between lawyers and judges in major litigation

By The Madison County Record | Jun 13, 2017

Law money 13

BENTON – Former U.S. district judge Patrick Murphy, who represents lawyer Stephen Tillery as plaintiff in the court of Senior U.S. District Judge Phil Gilbert, successfully defended Gilbert against an ethics complaint last year. 

Those proceedings, at the Seventh Circuit appellate court in Chicago, resulted in a ruling that Gilbert could serve as a trustee of Southern Illinois University. 

Public record of the proceedings reported last year did not identify Murphy as his counsel.

Gilbert disclosed the connection on June 7, five days after Murphy entered an appearance in Tillery’s suit against Advanced Analytics Consulting Group and two of its economists. 

“Although this presents no actual conflict under the code of conduct for United States judges, I want to advise both the plaintiff and defendants of my past relationship with Mr. Murphy,” Gilbert wrote. 

“That representation is complete, and I currently have no legal or financial relationship with Mr. Murphy.” 

He wrote that if any party might question his honesty, integrity and independence, or if he created an appearance of impropriety, he would honor a request for recusal. 

Tillery’s suit alleges that his firm paid Advanced Analytics about $500,000 for research and received nothing of value in return. 

The research would have supported a class action over wages of minor league baseball players, according to Tillery. 

The suit highlights relationships, not only between Gilbert and Murphy but also between Tillery and Murphy, and between Tillery and Gilbert. 

In 2012, in a class action Tillery led, Gilbert awarded about $41 million in fees and expenses to a legal team that included Murphy’s wife, Patricia Murphy. 

Tillery’s team represented small towns and public water systems in Corn Belt states, claiming Syngenta contaminated water with weed killer atrazine. 

Gilbert denied a motion to dismiss the suit, finding plaintiffs didn’t have to prove that atrazine concentrations exceeded a federal health standard. 

He ruled that they needed only to show they spent more to remove it. 

Syngenta and plaintiffs agreed to settle all claims against all producers of weed killers for $105 million. 

Syngenta reserved a right to recover from other producers. 

Tillery asked for a third of the settlement fund, after expenses. 

His firm reported spending about 47,000 hours on the case, and the Houston firm of Baron and Budd reported about 37,000 hours. 

Patricia Murphy, the only plaintiff lawyer on the case other than those from Tillery’s firm or Baron and Budd, didn’t report any hours. 

Gilbert awarded about $32 million in fees and about $9 million in expenses. 

Beyond the Syngenta action, the paths of Gilbert and Tillery seldom crossed. 

Patrick Murphy, on the other hand, presided over 35 actions involving Tillery. 

Murphy fueled a class action frenzy in Madison County, starting in 2000, by swiftly sending back cases that defendants had removed to federal court. 

He signed 19 orders remanding Tillery cases to Madison County. 

The roster of defendants he sent away includes General Motors, Intel, Daimler Chrysler, Mattel, Philip Morris, Huck’s, Arthur Gallagher accountants, and Select Portfolio Mortgage. 

At first, he ruled on remand motions within 60 days. 

He picked up the pace and set a speed record in 2004, remanding an action that Templeton Investments had removed 15 days earlier. 

In a maze of Tillery actions against investment funds, he and fellow district judges David Herndon and Michael Reagan created a pile of remand orders. 

Seventh Circuit reversed all three judges at once in 2005, finding federal securities law divested state courts of jurisdiction. 

The U.S. Supreme Court then reversed the Seventh Circuit and vindicated Murphy, Herndon and Reagan. 

Murphy retired in 2013, and resumed private practice in partnership with Patricia Murphy at Energy, near Herrin, Ill.   

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Organizations in this Story

SyngentaGeneral MotorsPhilip Morris USAIntel