EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. (CN) – A Madison County Circuit judge has been taken off the asbestos docket and reassigned, after receiving controversial campaign donations from attorneys.
Effective Dec. 12, Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder will hear chancery, eminent domain and other civil cases.
The move comes after Crowder’s campaign committee, the Friends of Barbara Crowder, received $30,000 in campaign contributions from attorneys with Gori Julian & Associates, Goldenberg Heller Antognoli & Rowland, and the Simmons firm between Dec. 5 and Dec. 6.
The three law firms specialize in asbestos cases and the received most of their requested case slots when Crowder released the 2013 asbestos trial docket on Dec. 1.
The case slots were awarded in the county’s unusual system that gives blocks of court time to law firms in anticipation of cases that haven’t been filed yet.
Crowder vowed to return the money and said the donations were “not related to, or coordinated with, my activities on the bench,” in a statement to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Crowder is running for retention. She must get at least 60 percent of ballot approval in next year’s election.
Chief Judge Ann Callis reassigned the cases to Associate Judge Clarence Harrison, who is the son of former Illinois Supreme Court Justice Moses Harrison.
“A situation was brought to my attention, and following consultation with the circuit judges we unanimously decided to change some civil assignments to maintain the public trust in a fair and unbiased judiciary,” Callis said in a statement to the Post-Dispatch.
Crowder issued her own statement to the Post-Dispatch, saying. “Unfortunately, the timing of some campaign donations and the entry of a scheduling order have led some to speculate that there might be some relation between them. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Both Madison and neighboring St. Clair County have been elevated to fifth place on the American Tort Reform Association’s list of “Judicial Hellholes,” released Thursday. Madison had been on the pro-business lobby group’s watch list last year. Part of the reason for Madison’s elevation is the number of asbestos cases heard by the court, though only one in 10 of those cases have any connection to the area, according to the report.
Madison County Circuit Clerk Matt Melucci told the Post-Dispatch there were 2,041 asbestos cases pending in the county as of Wednesday and that 628 had been filed this year through Sept. 30. There were 752 asbestos cases filed in Madison County last year.