EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. (CN) – A state judge has put an end to the controversial practice of reserving asbestos trial dates in Madison County for cases that are not yet filed.
Madison County Associate Judge Clarence Harrison ordered all 2,013 asbestos cases to be set on a case-by-case basis, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. On Monday, more than 100 attorneys crammed into Harrison’s court to defend or challenge the reservation system.
In his decision, Harrison found no continuing need for the preassignment of asbestos trials. The reservation system was created in the 1980s to alleviate a backlog in asbestos cases tied to local industries. Today, though, almost every case involves an out-of-area plaintiff.
Critics argued the system made Madison County an asbestos-litigation haven, with one-fourth of the nation’s asbestos cases being filed in a county with just 2 percent of Illinois’ population.
Those arguments were fueled in December, after 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 the Simmons firm. Crowder, who has denied wrongdoing, then assigned those firms 82 percent of the dates in the reservation system for 2013.
Harrison took over the asbestos docket after Crowder was reassigned to hear chancery, eminent domain and miscellaneous remedy cases. Harrison was then assigned to the asbestos docket.
Under the registration system, a plaintiff who has not even learned that he is sick could be given a trial date. Supporters of the system claim it provides a way for dying plaintiffs to get their cases into court more quickly. Harrison’s ruling did state that the elderly and dying would receive preference in trial settings after their cases are filed, the Post-Dispatch reported.
Last year, 953 asbestos cases were filed in Madison County, tying the county’s record high in 2003.