ICJL: Madison and Cook County named Judicial Hellholes, again

Today the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) released its annual Judicial Hellholes report and revealed that Madison and Cook counties in Illinois have once again landed on the notorious list. According to the report, Madison and Cook counties have been identified and documented as places where judges in civil cases systematically apply laws and court procedures in an unfair and unbalanced manner, generally to the disadvantage of defendants.

The Illinois Civil Justice League provided its Asbestos Trust Transparency, Litigation Imbalance and Justice for Sale reports and background information on its work during the Madison County opioid litigation discussion as source information for the Judicial Hellholes study.

“Unfortunately, Madison and Cook counties have become perennial Judicial Hellholes known for disproportionate volumes of litigation and large verdicts. Plaintiff-friendly judges seem to dominate both jurisdictions in which defendants face uphill battles from their very first motions,” according to John Pastuovic, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League.

The report points out myriad problems to explain why Madison County continues to be marked as a Judicial Hellhole. Issues of concern include Madison County’s reign as the national epicenter for asbestos litigation, attracting plaintiffs and their attorneys from all across the country, with the overwhelming majority of cases having absolutely no connection to the county or the state of Illinois; ICJL’s belief in the need for transparency between administrators of asbestos bankruptcy trust funds and civil courts; and ICJL’s concern with if and how the Madison County State’s Attorney intends to proceed with opioid litigation.

ATRA’s Judicial Hellholes report reveals why Cook County continues to share a spot with Madison County on the Judicial Hellholes list. For example, Cook County is the home of a disproportionate amount of the state’s litigation and is known for large verdicts. The report also shows how the Cook County court has been plagued by unqualified and unethical judges, yet somehow most continue to be reelected. It also highlights the exploits of two judges who, thankfully, were removed from the bench for misconduct.

Additionally, the Judicial Hellholes report highlights a 2016 study that shows campaign contributions by trial lawyers to judges and other Illinois office seekers topped $35.25 million during the previous 15 years. In addition to the $6 million contributed through the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association’s legislative political action committee, the top 25 plaintiffs’ firms and their lawyers and family members collectively invested another $29 million. These campaign contributions have gone to legislators, constitutional officers, judges, state’s attorneys, county board chairmen, circuit clerks, county party chairmen, mayors, union leaders and politically allied special interests.

In light of this influence, the report points to the recent preposterous class actions targeting the deep pockets of Walgreens, 7-Eleven and McDonald’s. The three companies have been targeted for erroneously applying the county’s new and since repealed soda tax. It was a simple mistake that the companies promptly corrected, and plaintiffs lost mere pennies. Now defendants will spend dearly to fight these suits.

“While this Judicial Hellholes distinction should certainly make the elected officials in these counties cringe with embarrassment, there is also a very real consequence. The putrid legal environment has made small, medium and large business reluctant to invest in Illinois, costing hardworking families well-paid, meaningful jobs,” Pastuovic concluded.


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Opinions


Editorial: Legal Reform Requires Careful Negotiations

From the Bloomington Pantagraph and Decatur Herald & Review

The state of Illinois either has one of the nation’s worst judicial climates, or is a state where the ordinary plaintiff has a fair chance to win against corporate giants.

It just depends on who you ask. More importantly, it depends on where the money is located.

That’s the result of the news last week that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was proclaiming the Illinois lawsuit climate was one of the worst in the nation.

According to a survey conducted for the Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform by Harris Poll, the chamber said only Louisiana and West Virginia have worse lawsuit climates.

The results are based on questionnaires asked of senior company attorneys about how a state’s lawsuit environment is likely to affect important business decisions. So, at best, the results of the survey were pretty predictable.

However, Gov. Bruce Rauner lent his support to the issue, saying the lawsuit environment in the state is hampering economic growth.

“You come here, you open yourself up to attack and excessive judgment against your company,” the governor said.

Rauner has proposed legislation that he says will put the system more into balance. Those reforms include medical awards based on charges rather than actual payments, changing overly inclusive liability standards and limiting venue shopping by plaintiffs.

View the full editorial at the Bloomington Pantagraph…

News Update


Illinois Will Delay Pension Payment, Citing Cash Shortage

From Crain’s Chicago Business

Illinois will delay payments to its pension fund as a prolonged budget impasse causes a cash shortage, Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger said.

The spending standoff between Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and Democratic legislative leaders has extended into its fourth month with no signs of ending. Munger said her office will postpone a $560 million retirement-fund payment next month, and may make the December contribution late.

“This decision is choosing the least of a number of bad options,” Munger told reporters in Chicago on Wednesday. “For all intents and purposes, we are out of money now.”

Munger said the pension systems will be paid in full by the end of the fiscal year in June. The state still is making bond payments, and retirees are receiving checks, she said.

“We prioritize the bond payments above everything else,” Munger told reporters.

The pension payment delay was inevitable, said some who have been watching the budget gridlock.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Ralph Martire, executive director of the Chicago-based Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, which monitors Illinois finances.

“Every month they go without resolving the impasse on the budget means it’ll cost more to ultimately resolve it,” Martire said. “This is a natural, predictable consequence if you do something called math.”

Read more in our daily News Update…