Illinois Civil Justice League: June 2005

June 15, 2005

Criticism Stacks in Anti-Stacking Case

Ted Frank at recently examined a Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals case that help illustrates exactly why Madison County has earned its negative reputation as the #1 Judicial Hellhole in America.

In the case (Grinnell Select Insurance Company v. Martha Baker), the judges were asked to look at Illinois law in regards to anti-stacking provisions in insurance policies.

According to Ted:

Though the policy language was clear, the task was made trickier because the Fifth District Appellate Court of Illinois--the appellate court for Madison County and much of southern Illinois--had issued two decisions that contradicted Illinois Supreme Court decisions in an effort to read anti-stacking provisions out of the policy.

If you think Ted is critical in this instance, just read what the Court of Appeals had to say in its decision:

It is hard to imagine clearer language. But it is not enough for one state appellate court. The Appellate Court of Illinois, Fifth District, has held in two decisions that, when the declarations page of a policy contains the language "insurance is provided where a premium is shown", the policy is ambiguous notwithstanding an explicit antistacking clause, because an insured might read the language "insurance is provided" to permit stacking.

The judges then point out that not only did two other courts in Illinois arrive at different conclusions than the Fifth District, but no other court in the nation seems to hold the same opinion as the Fifth District:

As far as we can tell, the Fifth District stands alone among the 50 state judicial systems. The policy Grinnell issued — with a declarations page listing multiple cars, premiums, and coverages separately, and then a clause stating that the limit for one car and one accident is the total available no matter how many vehicles or premiums are shown in the declarations — is the standard auto liability form devised by the Insurance Services Office and is in use across the nation. Defendants did not cite, and we could not find, any decision outside the Fifth District allowing stacking.

In other words, even though Grinnell used a standard auto liability contract - in fact, one used all across the nation - somehow the Fifth District arrived at a different conclusion on the contract than any other court in the country.

As "officials" in Madison County continue to dismiss any validity to the notion their courts are different from any others, let us remember what the United States Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has to say: "As far as we can tell, the Fifth District stands alone among the 50 state judicial systems." Unfortunately, this statement is far from a compliment. In other words, "we're still #1 at being dead last."

June 06, 2005

Who's Worth More?

Yesterday's Edwardsville Intelligencer article about juror salaries has sparked an interesting topic...

Who's worth more, judges or juries?

I'm sure there's some great philosophical debate, but let's leave that for another day. In Illinois, judges must be worth more, and the attitude of Madison County's Chief Circuit Judge indicates it.

According to the Intelligencer:

A proposal to triple jury pay, from $10 to $30 per day, has died in the state Senate. To cover the increased expense, House Bill 339 would have allowed counties to increase the fees -- by $10 for each plaintiff and defendant -- that attorneys must pay when they seek a jury trial.

The jury fee is currently $212.50.

Chief Judge Edwards Ferguson was not particularly sad to see the bill fail.

"The magic bullet, of course, was 'We'll have the ones who use the courts pay for it,' but that's getting so onerous," he said Friday at a meeting of the Madison County Judiciary Committee.

Interesting comment on user fees, coming from a Judge that now sits in a new Criminal Courts Building that was paid for by a case that has nothing to do with Madison County's Criminal Court.

For the record, the ICJL supported the bi-partisan-sponsored Senate Bill 1481, which included the increased juror pay with a host of other jury reform initiatives. That bill didn't emerge from Senate Judiciary Committee. The ICJL did not take a position on House Bill 339.

Back to the story:

Last year the county paid jurors about $80,000, not including about $50,000 for mileage and $1,700 for meals.

So Madison County spent about $131, 700 for all of its juries. Meanwhile, Judge Ferguson, one of eight judges that calls Madison County home, makes $136,546 a year. Eleven other Associate Judges draw $127,247 a year.

Let's compare yearly costs:
Madison County Juries: $131,700
Madison County Judges: $2,492,085

Judge Ferguson makes about $525 each workday. A 12-person jury altogether gets paid $120 plus mileage. Is it that unfair to pay the jury in a manner that is more equitable to what the judge is making?

And, how can the increased filing fees really overburden Madison County lawyers, some of whom have earned $13,100 a hour in class action litigation?

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© 2005 Illinois Civil Justice League