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Judicial Hellholes Bulletin: New Report Details Trial Lawyers’ Influence over Illinois’ Policymakers, Judges

JHH 1617 ImageThough release of ATRA’s annual Judicial Hellholes® report is still more than three months away, this special bulletin alerts readers to a new report, Justice for Sale III, issued by the Illinois Civil Justice League, detailing and quantifying the campaign contributions and enormous political influence that plaintiffs’ lawyers Madison County, Illinoisexert on policymakers and judges throughout the hellholes riddled state.

The report’s findings include:

  • With $6 million from the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association’s (ITLA) political action committee and another $29 million from the state’s top 25 plaintiffs’ law firms, their lawyers and their lawyers’ family members, more than $35 million were contributed to the campaigns of Illinois politicians — including state legislators, executive branch candidates, local office seekers and judges — from January 2001 through March 2016.
  • Trial lawyers thus spent roughly $264 every hour of every day for more than 15 years, hoping to influence legislation and litigation outcomes.
  • More than 98% of these campaign contributions went to Democrats.
  • The top personal injury law firms gave over $7 million to judicial candidates alone.
  • ITLA’s PAC received all of its major contributions from lawyers and law firms in and around the Judicial Hellholes jurisdictions of Cook, Madison and St. Clair counties.
  • Trial lawyer political spending in these Judicial Hellholes jurisdictions was significantly higher than in other state jurisdictions.

Given such spending, it’s no surprise that courts in Hellholes jurisdictions are known to be plaintiff-friendly while the Illinois legislature is known to embrace expansions of civil liability and reject sound legal reforms like those adopted by many competing Midwestern states.

Illinois is one of a handful of states that have not adopted a standard that precludes junk science and ensures that expert testimony is reliable.  It’s also one of few states with joint liability, meaning that a person who is 25% or more responsible for someone else’s injury can be required to pay 100% of the damages if others responsible can’t be forced to pay their share.

Furthermore, Illinois still allows for unconstrained if wholly subjective pain and suffering awards and does not have a statutory limit on punitive damages, unlike most other states.  And, of course, the state’s venue law has allowed plaintiffs’ lawyers to bring cases that have no connection to the state to their favorite Illinois county courthouses.

For example, more than 90% of the asbestos lawsuits filed in Madison County, are filed by out-of-state plaintiffs.  Not surprisingly, the largely rural county hosts by far more pending asbestos litigation than any other jurisdiction in the country while attracting roughly one quarter of all newly filed asbestos suits each year.

Chance for Change?

Civil justice reform priorities in Illinois should include reducing forum shopping, strengthening the reliability of expert testimony, reducing the opportunity for fraud and double-dipping in asbestos litigation, and providing jurors with more information to ensure that damage awards accurately reflect the plaintiff’s medical expenses.   But when bills related to lawsuit reform come before Illinois legislators, however, they don’t get a hearing or, if they do, legislators do not move them forward to a vote. When the legislature did attempt to improve litigation fairness years ago, the Illinois Supreme Court struck the laws down.

“Madison, St. Clair and Cook counties have been featured regularly in the American Tort Reform Association’s extensively documented reporting on some the nation’s most unfair civil court jurisdictions,” explained ATRA president Tiger Joyce. “So we’re grateful to ICJL for its diligent research to quantify what is a disturbing level of influence exerted by the plaintiffs’ bar on the judges in these counties and lawmakers in Springfield.

“It should already be clear that as more jobs- and tax revenue-providing businesses are targeted by often speculative and sometimes fraudulent litigation in Illinois,” Joyce continued, “it will become that much harder for the state to solve its mounting debt problems.

“So we encourage Illinois policymakers to consider reasonable reforms that would, for example, reduce forum shopping and asbestos litigation fraud, heighten the standard for expert testimony, and make it easier for defendants to present juries with various types of mitigating evidence.”

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