EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. (CN) - The fate of Madison County Court's peculiar asbestos-case-reservation system, in which attorneys can reserve a trial date before filing a case, was debated before a judge this week.
Last year, 953 asbestos cases were filed in Madison County, matching a record set in 2003. The county court has developed a system that allows asbestos plaintiff attorneys to reserve trial dates for cases that haven't been filed yet.
The system came under fire after it was reported that Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder accepted $30,000 in campaign donations from the area's three largest asbestos firms - Gori Julian & Associates, Goldenberg Heller Antognoli & Rowland and Simmons - in December.
Crowder, who has claimed she did nothing wrong, then assigned those firms 82 percent of the dates in the reservation system for 2013. Crowder has since been reassigned to hear chancery, eminent domain and miscellaneous remedy cases.
Defense attorneys filed a motion before Associate Judge Clarence Harrison arguing that the reservation system should be thrown out.
Robert Shultz, of Heyl Royster, argued the motion on behalf of 61 corporations. Shultz claimed that 65 percent of the asbestos cases set for trial this year were filed after a trial date was given, allowing asbestos plaintiff firms to market the dates to victims across the country; that Madison County is home to one of every four mesothelioma cases in the nation, though the county is home to just 2 percent of Illinois' population; and that 158 people are diagnosed annually with mesothelioma in Illinois, but Madison County has more than 500 trial dates a year for people suffering from the disease.
"There shouldn't be a reservation system for those who are in the club," Shultz said, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Shultz proposed that law firms should get trial dates only when a case has been filed and basic discovery has been performed.
Asbestos plaintiff attorneys said Shultz's statistics were misleading.
"Mr. Shultz is a very gifted attorney," Barry Julian, of Gori Julian, said, according to the Madison County Record. "Seventy-six point three percent of all people who quote statistics make them up as they go along."
Elizabeth Heller, of Goldenberg Heller, said that the system is not broken and "the sky is not falling." Heller claimed the system gets dying plaintiffs into court quickly.
Madison County has long been considered a plaintiff-friendly venue and has consistently appeared on the American Tort Reform Association's "Judicial Hellholes" list.
The reservation system was created in the 1980s to alleviate a backlog in asbestos cases tied to local industries, according to the Post-Dispatch. Today, though, almost every case involves an out-of-area plaintiff.
Harrison, who was assigned the asbestos docket after Crowder was reassigned, said he would make a decision soon.Follow @@joeharris_stl
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