Retired Judge Claims Paper Defamed Him

     EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. (CN) – A retired judge who presided over Madison County asbestos cases claims a newspaper defamed him by publishing a law professor’s statement that he was “corrupt as the day is long.”
     Nicholas Byron sued the Madison County Record, reporter Heather Isringhausen Gvillo and Benjamin Cardozo Law School professor Lester Brickman in Madison County Court.
     At issue is an article Isringhausen Gvillo wrote in September 2014 about the history of asbestos litigation in Madison County, which is considered the busiest asbestos court in the country. The article quotes Brickman as saying that “[Judge Byron] was corrupt as the day is long.”
     Byron was a Madison County associate judge from 1981 to 1988 and a circuit judge from 1988 to 2008.
     “The defendants published the statement, knowing the statement was false or with a reckless disregard for its truth or falsity, which constitutes actual malice,” Byron says in the Sept. 2 lawsuit.
     The article cites Brinkman and others claiming that Byron’s plaintiff-friendly practices helped the asbestos boom in Madison County.
     The article states that Madison County became the friendliest venue for asbestos litigation in the country during the 17 years that Byron oversaw the docket, and that in 2003 the court saw a then-record 953 asbestos cases. The Record reported that in 2002 Byron received more than $65,000 in campaign donations, from asbestos plaintiff attorneys.
     Byron’s lawsuit does not take offense to those claims.
     In an unrelated case, Byron issued a $10.1 billion verdict in March 2003 against tobacco giant Philip Morris in a class action.
     In March 2013, according to The Record, a jury in Byron’s court awarded $250 million, including $200 million in punitive damages, to a steelworker who claimed he developed lung cancer after being exposed to asbestos.
     Byron is now of counsel at Byron, Carlson, Petri & Kalb. He says in the lawsuit that he would have been subjected to discipline if the article’s statement were true.
     “As a proximate cause of defendants’ statement, Judge Byron sustained an injury to his reputation as a former judicial officer of the Circuit Court, as a practicing attorney, and generally as a member of the community,” the complaint states.
     An official for The Record told Courthouse News the paper has no comment. Brinkman was unavailable for comment.
     Byron seeks more than $100,000 in damages for defamation and false light. He is represented by Bill T. Walker of Granite City.

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