The appointment of an asbestos attorney who helped start the nation's largest asbestos firm to serve as judge in the court system that handles the most asbestos cases in the nation is being called "troubling" by critics concerned with the court's reputation as a judicial "hellhole."
"Appointing a wealthy asbestos attorney to the bench will only make the reputation of Madison County courts even worse," said Madison County board member and chair of the county Judiciary Committee Mike Walters.
An announcement was made on Friday that John Barry Julian of Edwardsville-based Gori & Julian will be appointed associate judge to the seat vacated by Sarah Smith, who was elected circuit judge in November.
Julian's residency has come into question, as he has been registered to vote as a Democrat in Naples, Fla. since October 2014. At the time he would have submitted his judge application he was not a registered voter in the Third Judicial Circuit.
Plank and Julian
Julian, 68, un-registered to vote in Madison County in December 2014, and according to the Madison County Clerk's office, he re-registered as a resident of Edwardsville in a process that was completed on the day his appointment was announced - Jan. 25.
Applications for the position were due with the Administrative Office of Illinois Courts (AOIC) on Jan. 7. Eleven other attorneys applied for the seat which carries a four-year term.
Illinois Supreme Court spokesperson Christopher Bonjean said in an emailed statement that the residency requirement for associate judge applicants "doesn't have anything to do with voter registration."
"The person must certify on the application that they are a resident – it isn’t something that is investigated by the AOIC," Bonjean stated.
Applicants sign off with: “I certify that all statements made in this application are true, complete, and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief, and are made in good faith”
Associate judges in Madison County are chosen by the circuit's nine elected judges - Hylla, Smith, Andreas Matoesian, Bill Mudge, Kyle Napp, Dennis Ruth, Richard Tognarelli, David Dugan and Christopher Bauer - who cast secret ballots with the AOIC.
Before the Julian announcement was made, Madison County GOP chairman Jeremy Plank called on circuit judges, with an 8-1 Democrat to Republican balance, to consider Republican applicants for the position.
Plank said that in 24 years, only two Republican applicants have been picked as associate judges. The last was in 2006 with the appointment of Stephen Stobbs, who presides over the court's massive asbestos docket.
There are a total of 13 associate judge positions in the Third Judicial Circuit.
“Where is the diversity of thought?” Plank said. He also criticized Julian's residency issue.
“They couldn’t even bring themselves to pick from the many qualified attorneys living in Madison County," he said. "Instead, their choice was a powerful asbestos attorney and Florida resident.”
Gori & Julian files the most asbestos cases in courts across the country - the majority are filed in Madison County and the second most they file are filed in St. Clair County.
Julian has been a generous donor to Democratic candidates and causes through the years.
He has contributed to the campaigns of five sitting circuit judges, all of whom are Democrats: Hylla, $700 in 2012; Smith, $2,000 in 2018; Ruth, $5,000 in 2014; Napp, $4,836 in 2012 and Mudge $2,000 in 2009.