Illinois Civil Justice League: December 2004

December 24, 2004

Madison County to Move Suit

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is reporting this morning that the local judges are seeking to move the Maag Defamation Case OUT of Madison County.

The Chicago Tribune has a whole lot to say about the Maag case in their editorial, "Gordon Maag's revenge," including:

Given that Maag is from Madison County, suing for the big dollars may come naturally. But, as with so much that comes out of that corner of the state, this suit perfectly illustrates the misuse of the state's justice system that so disgusted voters as they made judicial choices last month.

And, if you're enjoying a Pop-Tart this Christmas Eve morning, make sure you keep an eye on the toaster. Attorneys have been busy doing the same, working to lodge new litigation at the Pop-Tart producers. They've even hired an "expert" Pop-Tart cooker!

According to this morning's Post-Dispatch editorial:

Is this a great country, or what? Not only is it a place where you can blame someone else when you forget the Pop-Tarts in the toaster, but it's also a place where a kid can study hard to get an electrical engineering degree and make a living as an expert at toasting Pop-Tarts.

In Madison County, this case would bring a couple million bucks, easy.

December 23, 2004

"Zany" is Just the Word

The Center for Justice & Democracy, a "national consumer" organization, has issued its Top Ten list for Zany Immunity laws, in an effort to discredit the tort reform movement.

As Ted Frank at Overlawyered.com smartly points out, the Top 10 list includes reforms that simply make sense and would only seem necessary because of the litigiousness of the country in which we now live.

As Ted demonstrates, these "awards" almost demonstrate our view perfectly:

How ridiculous are the CJD awards? One of the top ten "zany immunity laws" refers to "immunity" granted to placebo manufacturers and distributors. Except the immunity in question isn't immunity--it's an exception to a criminal statute prohibiting the sale of fake drugs!

Obviously biased already, the CJ&D appears to have furthered their cause by adding filmmaker Michael Moore to their advisory board.

"Corporate freeloaders are always looking for a handout and these kind of immunity laws are no different," he's quoted as saying in their press release, "And they are doing everything they can to convince decent, hardworking Americans to go along as their legal rights are simply taken away. How long are we going to tolerate this?"

One "zany" example given by CJ&D is immunity from liability for possible injuries sustained by the theft of anhydrous ammonia. Even the reports states: "This immunity may be of special interest to accident-prone thieves who depend on pilfered ammonia for operation of their illegal meth amphetamine labs."

Nice to know someone's looking out for the thieves' right to sue.

(This extra post will be the last regular post during the Holiday weekend. Hope everyone enjoys safe travel!)

Maag Quote

As I point out in my comment over on Schaeffer's "Notes from the (Legal) Underground," Gordon Maag was fairly clear on his thoughts about First Amendment freedoms in his Statement of Candidacy, provided to ICJL in early 2004 (and available at www.illinoisjudges2004.com).

In his statement, Maag states:

"Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are essential to our democracy. Robust public debate and complete and accurate publication of newsworthy events is critical to a free society."

Maag also wrote the following about his $2000 per contributor fundraising pledge:

"There should not even be a hint that large corporations or wealthy individuals, be they doctors, lawyers, or businessmen enjoy a special status. In contrast, my opponent’s campaign spokesman has announced that his committee will not adopt any contribution limits. This speaks volumes about Lloyd Karmeier’s integrity and independence."

Maag's limit and pledge was certainly broken by the nearly $2.5 million in (mostly in-kind) contributions from the Democratic Party of Illinois (I won't even take the space to analyze the myriad of $100,000 contributions from local trial lawyers to DPI) and the nearly $1.3 million from Justice for All PAC (funded mostly by trial lawyers).

Judge Moran Recuses Himself

Judge Moran recused himself (see News-Democrat, AP story) from the $110 Million Maag Defamation Case yesterday, a move that could be repeated by other Madison County Circuit judges (see Madison County Record analysis) over the next few weeks.

Among the editorials from local newspapers analyzing the merits/motives of the suit, the Belleville News-Democrat weighed in with its opinion:

The irony of this lawsuit is too rich. The Supreme Court race basically was a referendum on our skewed civil court system and the need for tort reform. So what does Maag do? He turns around and files this over-the-top lawsuit. He filed it in -- where else? -- Madison County, the No. 1 judicial hellhole in the nation.

Meanwhile, the Southern Illinoisan has given Maag its "Thumbs Down" today, noting:

While it is certainly within Maag's rights to file a lawsuit, the outrageous sum of money he is seeking and the overall indication would seem that Maag is simply a sore loser.

Finally, Godfrey trial lawyer Evan Schaeffer paints a more optimistic view for Maag's suit, stating:

Whether or not you agree with Judge Maag's decision to sue, it's not hard to see why he was upset about the flier: it's false from start to finish, and makes Maag out to be complete scum--a monster, in fact. It certainly must give him a bad feeling to know his long and distinguished career on the bench ended like this, with his reputation in tatters.

In an effort of full disclosure, I should state that ICJL, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and the Southern Illinoisan all endorsed Maag's opponent, Justice Karmeier. Schaeffer, as he states in his post, supported Maag.

While I agree with Schaeffer's analysis that "it's not hard to see why (Maag) was upset about the flier," I would simply point out that the Maag campaign was the first to "go negative" in the Supreme Court race (specifically, on or around October 15th and two days prior to the first Anti-Maag negative spot). In fact, Maag made negative comments about Judge Karmeier's experience from almost Day One. Both sides aired "negative" commercials for more than two weeks at the end of the campiagn, and the ads painted both Maag AND Karmeier as "soft" on crime.

I've studied the charges that Maag's campaign made against Judge Karmeier, and I could easily see how Justice Karmeier and his family could have been "upset" by Maag's ads. Specifically, Judge Karmeier was assailed for letting a criminal go who raped and sodomized three children, however the defendant in that case was never tried before Judge Karmeier for those crimes (they had been dropped before trial in a plea between now-Circuit Judge John Baricevic and now-Appellate Judge Clyde Keuhn).

However, the beauty (and it's not always pretty) of our American democratic system of electing public officials, is that these claims can be fairly asserted and debated within the public domain, and then voters can choose who to believe and/or trust. You simply don't see President Bush or Senator Kerry hopping into Madison County to sue Dan Rather or the Swiftees?

Maag's defeat, while anecdotally attributable to thousands of different things, is rooted in his (heavy) support from the local, state and national plaintiffs bar. The financial support for his campaign provides nearly 5 million (dollars worth of) reasons why the voters rejected him. The failure of DPI Chairman Mike Madigan ($2.5M) to resolve our medical malpractice crisis, the aggressiveness of the class-action leader Lakin Firm ($280k) and the asbestos leader SimmonsCooper firm ($1.1M) all made voters wary of Judge Maag.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial (Oct. 17, can't find a link) summed the Maag campaign very simply: "Judge Maag, by contrast, has his roots in the same sleazy, back-scratching, money-grubbing politics that made the Madison County mess." This is the issue upon which voters rejected Gordon Maag.

December 21, 2004

Rex Carr's busy December

Rex Carr, the lawyer behind the $110 million Maag lawsuit, was busy spending his money in other places today. According to the St. Louis Business Journal, Carr transferred $500,000 from his RC Holding Company to International Fuel Technology, of which he serves as a director. According to the IFT website, which lists their Insider and Rule 144 transactions for 2004, Carr has already invested more than $1 million in the past 12 months.

From the St. Louis Business Journal:

Rex Carr, a director of International Fuel and senior partner of the Carr Korein Tillery law firm in St. Louis, is president and 41 percent-owner of R C Holding, which owns and operates five hotel boats in France. In addition, he holds 26 percent of the outstanding stock of International Fuel.

Carr's other businesses include Art Company London, which manufactures and sells art reproduced on canvas; the Carlyle Limited Partnership, which operates a marina at Carlyle Lake in Illinois; and numerous apartment complexes in Illinois.

December 20, 2004

Drunks and Dopeheads - Part II

Gordon Maag picked the right lawyer to file a "defamation" suit.

This is what Rex Carr had to say about the American Tort Reform Association last week:

“They (ATRA) must be drinking Benzene. They are in the pay of the Chamber of Commerce to spread the big lie and to restrict poor victims from getting what they deserve.

"They (ATRA) are drunks and dopeheads."

Definition: Problem (noun)

Problem - noun - (1): an intricate unsettled question (2): a source of perplexity, distress, or vexation (3): difficulty in understanding or accepting. (See Madison County Courthouse)

If there was any need for a continuing examples of the tort problems in Madison County, former Appellate Judge Gordon Maag provided another exhibit with 2004-L-1395, a $110 million defamation suit against the Illinois Coalition for Jobs, Growth and Prosperity, its chairman Ronald Gidwitz and treasurer Gregory W. Baise, as well as the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

The suit was filed by Rex Carr, an East St. Louis attorney who previously practiced with class action litigator Steve Tillery. Carr is a former president of the Inner Circle of Advocates, an exclusive club of American trial lawyers.

(Interestingly enough, Rex Carr's website provides the only known link of a law firm website to the Victims and Families United website.)

December 19, 2004

Ghost of Trial Lawyer Future

If you enjoy "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens, a quick read of The Story of the Ghost of Judicial Hellhole Future (aka John Hopkins' new guest column in the Madison County Record) will bring a holiday smile to your face. Hopkins' satirical account of a trial lawyer being "visited" by a ghost in the Stagger Inn parking lot alternates between an apology for the "greedy baby lawyers" who have invaded Madison County and a manifesto for trial lawyers to return to power.

While I'm unsure how much - if any - of the story is set in fact (although I'd like to know more about the $8000 given to "Old Man Lakin" to "retire the Maag campaign debt"), I found two paragraphs in this column particularly interesting.

Trial lawyers enjoy telling the media that there's nothing to the Judicial Hellhole assessments of Madison County. But this quote adds an interesting twist, considering it was written by one of more famous Edwardsville plaintiffs attorneys:

“We had an edge on the plaintiff’s side, no question, but it reflected the blue collar make up of the place. It was kept under the radar screen, nobody went overboard, nobody drew attention to the Courts. The lawyers and the judges were respected by the public, respected each other, and respected the law. Now the place is crawling with reporters, reformers and baby lawyers, all drawn to Judicial Hellhole No. 1."

If someone's ready to go on the record about "an edge to the plaintiff's side," it being "kept under the radar screen," what going "overboard" exactly means, and who "baby lawyers" refers to, I'd be ready to see it posted as a comment to this post.

The story by Hopkins finishes with a Holiday Trial Lawyer Manifesto:

"But you and the other members of the practicing Bar have the power to reverse the trends, if only you have the heart, have the will, to take back YOUR legal system, and bring back your county.”

Remember, newspaper accounts by trial lawyers always deny any bias or problem with the courts, so these statements must actually be as fictional as the story, huh?

I always thought that the public's tax dollars paid for our local court system, so I'm "shocked" that anyone (ghost or fictional trial lawyer) would suggest that they OWN the legal system. While the "ghost" is "reversing" events from 2004, it's funny that there's no mention of dumpster-diving or intimidation of campaign volunteer's families?

Unfortunately, Hopkins' new Christmas tale lacks any surprise ending (I was hoping for a trial lawyer wandering the streets of Edwardsville giving away his personal fortune). An alternate ending to the story is just completed: "God bless us every one," said Tiny Tim, who would be left in the Metro-East without any doctors in 2005.

A Tale of Two Blogs

The Madison County Record mentions our new ICJL Blog in their weekly Dicta column, which also features speculation about early retirements for Byron, Ferguson & Kardis (the three judges retained in 2002). While the image of "dueling blogs" is probably harder to visualize than "dueling banjos" or "dueling pianos," we should stress that we're not trying to compete with Notes from the (Legal) Underground.

Speaking of "Notes," Evan Schaeffer has a short story about his recent brush with KMOX radio host Charlie Brennan and I-LAW Director Steve Schoeffel. If Schaeffer felt silenced by Brennan's early "click," imagine how Schoeffel felt when he was served with notice of the TRO issued by Williamson County Judge Phillip Palmer. Getting hung up on definitely lacks the legal fees of defending a TRO.

December 17, 2004

"Desperate Judges" TV Show

While many trial lawyers fail to even acknowledge the existence of a problem (see T. Evan Schaeffer's post on ATRA announcement from yesterday), which is the same denials that have existed through the medical malpractice negotiations, the Karmeier-Maag race, and now the post-election period, even well-respected and nationally-renowned news organizations such as the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune and St. Louis Post-Dispatch are acknowledging the problems with Madison County.

Yesterday, the Chicago Tribune wrote an editorial about Madison County, citing the late Judge John DeLaurenti (a 27-year veteran of the Madison County bench) as saying there is "some merit to the accusation of bias". The Belleville News-Democrat has weighed in on the emigration of class action suits from Madison to St. Clair County. The local paper says: "The message to Illinois' reformers is to keep fighting and not get discouraged." Good point.

The best column has to be from St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan, who is making a pitch for a new Madison County-based sitcom to be called (I'm not kidding here) "Desperate Judges," a parity off of the new hit series Desperate Housewives. I'm not sure how ABC will try to utilize Monday Night Football to promote this new courtroom drama, but I'm hoping it doesn't have anything to do with towels in the locker room like their last ill-timed promo.

December 15, 2004

'Drunks And Dopeheads'

So prominent St. Clair County trial lawyer Rex Carr thinks ATRA (American Tort Reform Association) is a bunch of "drunks and dopeheads." It's good that the whole world is getting a chance to see why Madison and St. Clair counties have the reputation they have. It's not just the judges, but the lawyers (some) too.

December 14, 2004

Not One But TWO Judicial Hellholes?

There's a wide-spread belief that when the American Tort Reform Association releases its annual "judicial hellholes" on Wednesday, Madison County will not only retain its title as the worst legal jurisdiction in the US, but that neighboring St. Clair County will be pretty close to the top of the list ( or should that be bottom of the list? ) as well.

If that's the case, the ICJL is predicting it will be the last time the two will be viewed so negatively. The recent election of Justice Lloyd Karmeier to the Illinois Supreme Court, and the removal of Gordon Maag from the Appellate Court, show that area voters are ready for reform. They are not likely to sit on the sidelines any longer if they do not see improvement in the local courts -- and that means all circuit and appellate judges ought to do a behavior and fairness check.

Record to Expand Coverage

The Madison County Record publisher Brian Timpone, enjoying new publicity from an Associated Press story this morning, says the paper will expand its coverage to include lawsuits from St. Clair County, as well. St. Clair County's courts, home of a large medical malpractice docket, have been criticized in the past year by the Belleville News-Democrat for the failure of plaintiffs lawyers to file the required affidavits of merit and for the immense amount of "secrecy" in med mal cases in St. Clair County.

Knight Ridder publishes The Legal Reporter, a legal journal in St. Clair County, but that publication rarely carries any of its own editorial content. Knight Ridder owns the Belleville News-Democrat, as well as six other Metro-East weekly newspapers, and has a Board of Directors filled with representatives of five different national corporations. One could easily pick away at the "threat of media monopoly" or "possible board member conflicts," but it would be unfair and insulting to the great staff at these quality publications. But, just because Brian Timpone has a more partisan background, critics say that we are being plunged back into the "bad old days."

The Madison County Record responds to its critics in an editorial published yesterday. A check of the online poll this morning at the Madison County Record, which is asking "Does the Madison County Record provide balanced news coverage?", shows more than 1225 responses. That is certainly a record number for their online poll, which usually hovers around 100 responses. However, all of the attention is certainly not harming the Record. The thousand-plus new responses to the poll have lifted public opinion with nearly 65 percent of respondents answering that the Record's coverage is balanced. Just short of a landslide.

December 13, 2004

Objectivity and Disclosure

One thing is certain in the news business: Objectivity is only secure in the mind of the beholder.

The recent debate involving the US Chamber's part ownership of the Madison County Record is an interesting display of professional (and amateur) journalists' views on objectivity. Last week, the Washington Post "broke" a story about the US Chamber's involvement in the new Madison County newspaper. Since then, several colleagues of the Record - from both print and Internet mediums - have expressed opinions on the relationship.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch weighed in on its new opponent from Edwardsville, saying: "Conflicts of interest - especially a whopper like this one - should always be disclosed." T. Evan Schaeffer, of Notes from the (Legal) Underground, says in a posting yesterday that he hopes the" coverage continues until the Record discloses on its front page that it's nothing but a paid advertisement from tort reformers." Reason Online has posted an opinion on the topic, citing Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" as counterpoint in the evolution of liberal interests also mounting untraditional media campaigns.

I enjoy the coverage that the Madison County Record publishes, especially the articles detailing recent lawsuit filings. While disclosure is an important factor in journalistic objectivity, so is balance - and not one of the sources above credited the Record for its outreach to guest editorial writers with differing opinions, including top-of-the-food-chain trial lawyers like Randy Bono and John J. Hopkins. While the paper's editorial and ownership leaning might be evident, the Record has aired opinions from all sides.

I'm pleased to hear a renewed interest from newspapers and lawyers about objectivity and the media. Madison County has its own Michael Moore-like movie crew "covering" the judicial elections and the reform debate - yet there has been no investigation or disclosure as to who is funding the video project? Maybe we should see who is paying the bills for a three person video crew to spend a couple months in Madison County - at least before they hand out their movie to local schools and libraries?

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