Jury Pay Goes Up, Civil Juries Shrink — And Counties Will See Higher Costs

From the Belleville News-Democrat

A new law taking effect this month requiring higher pay for Illinois jurors will more than double county governments’ costs, and will lower the number of people on civil juries.

The law, signed by former Gov. Pat Quinn last December, raises the pay jurors receive in compensation for their service, and reduces the number of jurors required for a civil case to six.

Previously, jurors were paid a fee that varied from county to county, some as little as $5 per day. In Madison and St. Clair counties, jurors were paid $10 per day, plus mileage counted from the juror’s home to the courthouse.

Under the new law, jurors will be paid $25 for the first day and $50 for each additional day their presence is required. Mileage will likely no longer be compensated, according to county officials.

While a juror cannot be fired for missing work for jury duty, Illinois does not require that employers pay their people for that time.

Madison County expects to see its budget for juror pay double, from $72,152 last year to approximately $144,000 next year. In St. Clair County, they expect to see even larger increases: from $84,286 last year to an estimated $400,000 for a full year under the new rules, according to St. Clair County Administrator Debra Moore. That is a general estimate, Moore said, as she is watching a proposed amendment in the hopes that the new pay will be reduced.

“We view it as another unfunded mandate that is excessively expensive,” Moore said. “We will be challenged to identify resources to recover the costs.”

The changes were supported by plaintiff attorneys. John Cooney, the immediate past president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers association, said the previous pay rates for jurors in Illinois were “almost insulting.”

“For those living paycheck to paycheck, we’ve seen people have their cars repossessed,” he said. “They aren’t going to be wealthy, but at least it offsets their transportation costs and meals. When I hear people say it doesn’t matter, it’s usually the people who can afford to do it.”

But John Pastuovic of the business-backed Illinois Civil Justice League believes plaintiff attorneys have another agenda behind the measure. The law also reduces the required number of jurors in civil cases from 12 to six.

“This legislation wasn’t really about jurors’ pay; the pay issue was really a ruse,” Pastuovic said. “(The new pay rate) isn’t going to really compensate people for their time. What this legislation was really about was decreasing the size of juries.”

Pastuovic said he believes smaller juries might be more easily swayed by a dominant personality and will mean higher awards for plaintiffs.

“A smaller jury often means a different outcome,” he said.



Litigation Tourism Is Bad For Illinois

By Mark Behrens

Illinois has a nationwide reputation as a prime destination for “litigation tourists.” Each year, people without a meaningful connection to Illinois flock to the state to file lawsuits in the hope of a big payout. Illinois law makes it easy for plaintiffs to forum shop and sue in counties with a reputation for jackpot justice.

The problem is particularly bad in Madison County, which has become a magnet for asbestos lawsuits generated by TV ads in Texas and other states. Plaintiffs today file asbestos lawsuits in Madison County for the same reason the prolific bank robber Willie Sutton is said to have robbed banks - because that is where the money is. According to the Illinois Civil Justice League, Madison County asbestos injury lawsuits settle for upwards of $2 million each, and collectively could produce nearly $600 million annually in fees for plaintiffs’ lawyers.

The Madison County courthouse is home to perhaps one-third or more of all asbestos lawsuits filed in the entire U.S., although only 10 percent of the plaintiffs live in Illinois and far fewer actually live in Madison County. Forum shopping abuse is a key reason the American Tort Reform Foundation has called Madison County one of America’s top “Judicial Hellholes.”

The problem of distant plaintiffs suing in the Land of Lincoln is not unique to Madison County. Nearby St. Clair County is also a frequent destination for out-of-state plaintiffs.

In Cook County, nonresident filings are on the rise too. Likely drawing cases from other counties, Cook County has a little over 40 percent of the state’s population but almost 64 percent of the litigation. Plaintiffs are drawn by the fact that verdicts in Cook County are four times greater-an average of almost $1 million-than the surrounding four counties of DuPage, Lake, Kane and Will.

The filing of lawsuits by far flung plaintiffs in Madison, St. Clair, or Cook Counties is a strong indication that the playing field is uneven in these places. Plaintiffs obviously perceive a litigation advantage there or they would sue in their home courts.

As a consequence, citizens in these counties bear a disproportionate burden. When residents of Cook, Madison or St. Clair Counties suffer harm, they may be forced to wait for justice because someone from another state or county has taken a trial slot. For some, justice delayed may be justice denied. As the volume of cases increases, so does the need for more jurors. Illinois residents should not be forced to take time away from work or family to serve as jurors in cases that belong in a different state or county. Many jurors may go uncompensated by their employers during this time and will receive only $50 a day after the second day of service under a new law that is effective June 1.

Read the entire commentary…

News Update

Judge Nixes Move To Dismiss Class Action vs Lawyer Accused Of Using Crash Reports To Market To New Clients

From the Cook County Record

A Chicago personal injury lawyer specializing in litigation involving motor vehicle accidents will need to answer allegations he violated federal privacy laws in allegedly using personal information on police traffic accident reports to solicit potential new clients, after a federal judge declined to dismiss a class action lawsuit against him over the alleged business practices.

Earlier this year, Antonio and Karen Pavone sued the Law Offices of Anthony Mancini, of Chicago, alleging attorney Mancini and his firm had violated the federal Driver’s Privacy Protection Act.

The case centers on a letter the Pavones alleged they received from Mancini about a week after they were involved in a traffic accident in Schaumburg on Jan. 15, 2015. The letter, which asked them to hire Mancini to represent them in any litigation or claims surrounding the accident, allegedly included an unredacted copy of the traffic crash report prepared by investigating police officers. That report included their names and personal information, as well as that of their minor son.

The Pavones said the letter, and in particular the report with the personal information, left them “shocked and dismayed, very concerned their personal information and that of their child had been transmitted to someone they did not know and used to solicit them for legal representation.”

Initially, the Pavones brought the complaint individually. However, in March it was made a class action, as the Pavones, through their attorneys, alleged Mancini’s actions in their case was a standard part of his firm’s strategy for landing new clients.

Read more in our daily News Update…