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June 4th, 2014

Madison County’s New Asbestos Judge Carries on Tradition of Brazenly Favoring Plaintiffs

The latest in a long line of plaintiff-friendly asbestos judges in Madison County, Illinois, recently denied dozens of defendants’ perfectly persuasive motions for forum non conveniens in four separate cases, making it ironically clear that jurors, not judges, are asbestos defendants’ only hope for justice in this perennial Judicial Hellhole.  Of course, the overwhelming majority of cases settle before a jury can weigh in, and such settlements are heavily influenced by judicial thumbs on the scale.  

As reported by the Madison-St. Clair Record, Madison County Associate Judge Stephen Stobbs essentially adopted the plaintiffs’ “arguments that defendants failed to prove how Madison County is inconvenient [or] why another forum is significantly more convenient.”

But as ATRA’s friends at the Illinois Civil Justice League point out:

One of these four conditions must be met for an Illinois court to be considered proper venue:

  1. The plaintiff is a resident of Illinois, or
  2. The defendant is a resident of Illinois, or
  3. The incident or situation leading to the litigation must have occurred in Illinois (accident, workplace exposure, etc.), or
  4. Failing one of the above, a determination must be made by the judge as to why Illinois SHOULD be the venue, rather than locations which meet the requirements listed above.

Plaintiffs or defendants may challenge #4 if the decision process gets that far.

Yet only one of the plaintiffs involved in the cases ever lived in Illinois, and that was only briefly some 50 years ago while serving in the Navy.  All the others have no connection whatsoever to the state, much less Madison County.  And while the defendants do business in Illinois, the state is not their principal place of business, nor were plaintiffs’ exposures necessarily alleged to have occurred within the state.

Thus Judge Stobbs has seen fit to ignore completely the December 2012 precedent set by the Illinois Supreme Court in Fennell v. Central Illinois Railroad.  That case was initially mishandled in neighboring St. Clair County — another Judicial Hellholes jurisdiction — by thankfully retired but long notorious plaintiffs’ bar puppet Circuit Judge Lloyd Cueto.

Cueto had similarly ignored the law in denying an asbestos defendant’s appropriate motion for forum non conveniens, and the high court rebuked him in finally dismissing Fennell’s case, that of a Mississippi man suing an out-of-state defendant for an exposure alleged to have occurred outside of Illinois.

As Judicial Hellholes readers know, rural little Madison County is home to more asbestos lawsuits than any other jurisdiction in the nation, setting yet another record last year with 1,678 new asbestos case filings.  The New York-based Napoli law firm has now set up a Madison County office and is ambitiously filing even more cases than long established local firms.  And 9 of 10 asbestos plaintiffs filing in the county have no connection whatsoever to the state of Illinois.

All of this can lead objective observers to only one conclusion: Asbestos plaintiffs and their lawyers are flocking to Madison County from all across the country because they’re convinced that judges there, like Judge Stobbs, can be relied upon to do their bidding and otherwise let the rule of law and justice be damned.

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