BELLEVILLE – Rookie Associate Judge Kevin Hoerner holds in his hands two cases that other St. Clair County judges turned loose like hot potatoes.
In one, he must decide whether to certify a class action on a claim that Sycamore Village nursing home in Swansea misused biometric information of employees.
The other, he must decide whether plaintiffs from other counties belong in a suit against Syngenta Crop Protection.
In the Syngenta suit, two St. Clair County plaintiffs and 10 others claim weed killer paraquat caused Parkinson’s disease.
Both suits have seen four judges in four months. Both started in 2017.
John Driscoll of St. Louis filed the Sycamore Village suit for former employee Saroya Roberson and a class she represents.
He didn’t name Sycamore Village as defendant, instead naming Symphony Sycamore LLC and four other Symphony entities.
Former chief judge John Baricevic entered an appearance for Roberson.
Chief Judge Andrew Gleeson assigned the suit to circuit judge Vincent Lopinot, now retired.
Defendants moved to dismiss the suit, claiming Roberson lacked standing because she alleged a phantom injury.
Lopinot denied the motion last May, without a word of explanation.
Last July, Baricevic’s son C.J. Baricevic entered an appearance for Roberson.
Lopinot started a hearing on class certification last Oct. 30, and realized that the suit involved Sycamore Village.
He told the parties his sister lived there 10 years and he often visited her.
On Nov. 7, defendants filed a motion for Lopinot to recuse himself or grant substitution for cause.
Lopinot, about to retire anyway, granted substitution.
On Nov. 13, Gleeson assigned Circuit Judge Christopher Kolker.
On Dec. 13, Driscoll associate Gregory Pals filed notice that the class certification hearing would resume in Kolker’s court on Dec. 20.
On Dec. 19, defendant Symphony Monarch moved for substitution.
Any party in Illinois can substitute one judge without cause, if the judge hasn’t made a substantive ruling.
On Dec. 20, Gleeson assigned Associate Judge Julia Gomric.
She resumed the class certification hearing that day, over an objection.
On Jan. 2, Symphony Sycamore moved to substitute her as a matter of right.
Joseph Donado of Chicago wrote that the hearing proceeded despite a request of counsel to confer with defendants as to their right of substitution.
He wrote that Symphony Sycamore made the motion in its own right and not on behalf of defendants who had not exercised the right to substitute.
Gomric held a hearing on Feb. 8, and granted substitution as a matter of right.
The docket shows no assignment, but Hoerner issued an order on Feb. 19.
“The court will review the transcript of the previous argument before Judge Gomric and rule on the motion considering argument previously made,” Hoerner wrote.
He set a conference April 2, writing that the parties should notify him if they desire oral argument.
The paraquat suit pairs class action veteran Stephen Tillery of St. Louis with Belleville’s Bob Sprague, Democratic Party chairman for the county.
Sprague filed it on Sept. 15, 2017, for Thomas Hoffmann and Diana Hoffmann of Clinton County.
He amended it three weeks later, adding Mary Rowan and Carroll Rowan of St. Clair County as plaintiffs along with eight plaintiffs from other counties.
He also added a second defendant, Chevron Phillips Chemical.
Two days later Thomas Hoffmann died.
Gleeson assigned Lopinot, who denied motions to dismiss defendants last July.
On Dec. 4, with Lopinot leaving, Gleeson assigned himself.
On Dec. 13, Syngenta moved for substitution.
On Dec. 28, Syngenta and Chevron Phillips moved to transfer all plaintiffs but the Rowans to their home counties.
Michael Nester of Belleville wrote for Syngenta that their claims had no meaningful connection to St. Clair County.
For Chevron Phillips, Joseph Orlet of St. Louis called it blatant forum shopping.
“It is fundamentally unfair to burden twelve residents of St. Clair County with jury duty to determine the rights of an individual who has no claim that he was injured in St. Clair County simply because plaintiffs may perceive St. Clair County to be am more favorable forum to its cause than the proper county,” Orlet wrote.
Gleeson granted Syngenta’s substitution motion on Jan. 14, and assigned Kolker.
On Jan. 16, Chevron Phillips moved to substitute Kolker.
He granted it on Jan. 22.
On Feb. 13, Gleeson assigned Hoerner and set a status conference March 26.
Circuit judges appointed Hoerner as associate judge after he fell short in a bid for Fifth District appellate court last November.