Madison County’s neighbor, St. Clair County, also continues to raise anxiety among civil defendants. Like its neighbor, St. Clair County is viewed by personal injury lawyers around the country as a choice jurisdiction in which to file their lawsuits. In 2010, for example, residents of states including Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia chose St. Clair County to claim that a drug maker and pharmacy chain did not sufficiently warn them that an antibiotic could lead to a higher risk of tendon injuries.
Also this year, St. Clair County Circuit Judge Michael O’Malley, who had previously presided over a class action targeting a particular pharmaceutical company, retired from the bench to join a personal injury law firm that advertises itself as a champion for “victims of corporate abuse, neglect and greed.” Within weeks of hanging up his robes, Judge O’Malley filed claims as the lead attorney against the same drug maker in both St. Clair and Madison counties. That the former judge does not view his role-switch as the inherent conflict of interest that it obviously is would make for side-splitting backwoods satire were the sobering stakes not so high for the defendant.
If judge’s quitting the bench to get in on the real money isn’t sufficiently disquieting, asbestos claims in St. Clair County are approaching a high this year. Though nowhere near Madison County’s volume, lawyers had filed 53 new asbestos claims in St. Clair County as of December 1, 2010, shattering the previous yearly record of 25 set back in 2006.
Meanwhile, St. Clair County judges have not addressed a civil suit against former Metro-East plaintiff-lawyer kingpin L. Thomas Lakin, the founder of the Lakin Law Firm who pleaded guilty to drug charges and was sentenced to six years in prison in October 2008. Though criminal sexual abuse charges against Lakin were dropped as part of a plea agreement, a civil suit against Lakin for sexual abuse and conspiracy has remained on hold since criminal charges were filed in 2007. The case has gone through four St. Clair County judges — two recused themselves and one has since retired.