Belleville attorney Rex Carr, a dean of the metro-east courts, died Monday. He was 88.
Carr scored dozens of multimillion-dollar verdicts and settlements on behalf of clients, earning a reputation as one of the region’s top plaintiff attorneys. He mostly represented clients who were victims of serious accidents, medical negligence and faulty products. For a while, he also represented groups of plaintiffs in class-action lawsuits.
His success brought him legendary status among local lawyers. He particularly was known for grilling witnesses during cross-examination.
“It was a dog-with-a-bone kind of approach,” recalled one colleague, attorney Troy Walton.
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Another colleague, federal Judge Staci Yandle, said Carr’s prowess at cross-examination was renowned in the region’s courts.
“He definitely broke witnesses,” Yandle said. “He was a tough cross-examiner, and I think that’s where a lot of his cases were made.”
Yandle, who worked at Carr’s firm as an associate and partner from 1987 to 2007, recalled one case in which Carr cross-examined a defense expert for two weeks.
“The trial went on for like two and a half months,” Yandle said. “Rex was just persistent, and would not give in.”
Carr hired Yandle fresh out of law school, and began assigning personal-injury cases to her. Some clients, after meeting with Yandle for their initial consultations, would later call Carr and complain. Yandle said those clients perhaps were expecting their cases to be handled by Carr himself, or they perhaps weren’t happy that their cases were being handled a young, black, female lawyer.
“I had three strikes against me,” Yandle said. “Rex did something that I think a lot of people would not have done. He told people, ‘This is who I assigned the file to, and I have faith in her. If you’re not happy with that, you need to take your case someplace else.’”
“That meant a lot,” Yandle said. “I know a lot of people who wouldn’t have done that. That’s pretty much how Rex was in general.”
Walton, who was an associate and partner at Carr’s firm from 2001 to 2008, recalled being interviewed by Carr for a job. Walton began talking about one of the personal-injury cases he was handling. Carr interrupted Walton after just a few seconds.
“That’s not a case,” Carr told Walton. Walton persisted, trying to further explain the case, but Carr shut him down again.
“You have terrible judgment on lawsuits, but I like your spirit,” Carr told the young lawyer.
Walton and Yandle recalled the time that Carr read a newspaper article about the Belleville Area Humane Society needing a new fence. Carr, a dog-lover, bought the fence. In a follow-up newspaper article, he mentioned that he practically liked dogs more than people. The next day, at Carr’s office, the lawyers told Carr that it might not have been a good thing to say.
Walton said Carr replied: “That’s not what I meant. But you gotta admit, between dogs and people, you gotta choose dogs.”
“He always said what was right on top of his mind,” Walton said.
Carr’s top judgments and settlements included $16.2 million in a toxic-tort case against Monsanto, $25 million in an unpaid-overtime case, $9 million in a libel case against the Alton Telegraph and two separate $7 million medical-malpractice cases.
Carr often gave lectures to other lawyers on trial techniques.
Walton recalled an often-told story about one of Carr’s lectures years ago, during which a lawyer asked Carr how he managed to get a $5 million verdict in a case.
Before Carr could answer, a former partner, Sandy Korein, interrupted. “He took a $20 million case and screwed it up,” Korein joked.
“Sandy had probably heard enough about Rex’s results,” Walton said.
Walton said Carr often did all of the work for his cases, including the research and writing.
“He was definitely a scholar, and he got a lot of deference from others, because they knew that he knew the law,” Walton said.
Yandle said Carr worked hard for clients and “always took up the cause of underdogs.” Walton said for Carr, the law was “his passion.”
Around 2004, Carr was involved in a dispute with former partners over legal fees from class-action cases. Carr was due more than $10 million in legal fees, but Carr was fighting them because he said he’d been shorted about $150,000.
“Would you let them get away with cheating you? It’s the principle of the thing,” Carr told a reporter. “I don’t need the money.”
Belleville attorney Tom Keefe said Carr “was an icon in our world of trying lawsuits. His death is the ending of an era.”
Carr was a fierce advocate for his clients’ rights, Keefe said.
“Rex always believed that a jury verdict was better than a settlement,” Keefe said.
Around 2005, the courts in Madison and St. Clair counties were coming under heavy fire from business-backed groups that said the courts were too plaintiff-friendly. Walton said Carr had seen similar efforts over the years, and knew it would pass, “that people would still want to hold those corporations or insurance companies responsible” when people are wronged.
Carr grew up poor in East St. Louis, and kept an office there until the end.
Michael Korein, a son of Sandy Korein, became an associate in the firm in 1995. Social justice was important to Carr, according to Michael Korein.
Carr at one point represented black teachers in the East St. Louis school district who were paid less and passed over for promotions, Michael Korein said.
“Rex was a great mentor,” Michael Korein said. “He was a gracious, direct, kind and patient person.”
Michael Korein said Carr “always said that he thought he would die sitting in his office chair. He wanted to practice as long as he could.”
“He was important in the legal community,” Michael Korein said. “And he will be missed.”
Yandle said Carr’s health had deteriorated in the past few months. He had cancer.
Kassly Mortuary in Fairview Heights is in charge of arrangements. Vistation is 4 to 8 p.m. Friday at the funeral home. Funeral services are 11 a.m. Saturday at Kassly.