Metro-East News

Lawsuit abuse group protests at Madison, St. Clair courthouses

Travis Akin of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch stands in front of the traveling billboard I-LAW parked in front the Madison and St. Clair county courthouses Tuesday. I-LAW advocates for tort reform alleging lawsuit abuse in the metro-east.
Travis Akin of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch stands in front of the traveling billboard I-LAW parked in front the Madison and St. Clair county courthouses Tuesday. I-LAW advocates for tort reform alleging lawsuit abuse in the metro-east. Belleville News-Democrat

A lawsuit abuse group protested Tuesday in front of the Belleville and Edwardsville courthouses, focused on the appointment and actions of judges.

Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch said they were concerned about the appointment of Associate Judge Jennifer Hightower, who they said came from a law firm that has filed many asbestos lawsuits in Madison County and who graduated from law school six years ago.

Hightower was elected by the circuit judges in the 3rd Judicial Circuit as one of five to replace judges who were not retained earlier this year.

Meanwhile, judges John Baricevic, Robert Haida and Robert LeChien in St. Clair County have chosen to vacate their seats and run for election rather than running for retention. Retention requires a 60 percent “yes” vote in order to be retained, while running for election requires only a simple majority.

Hightower and the St. Clair County judges could not immediately be reached for comment.

Travis Akin, director of I-LAW, said the appointment and election decisions are legal, but it “doesn’t pass the smell test.” He said the judges are “gaming the system” for abusive lawsuits.

However, Perry Browder, president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, said that very few injured people file lawsuits. He said the number of civil cases filed in Illinois is down 26 percent since 2007, and more than 70 percent of lawsuits are businesses suing other businesses or individuals.

In Madison County, he said, asbestos filings are down 22 percent in the last two years and most cases are settled before they see a jury.

“The only lawsuit crisis in Illinois is the one made up by this front group trying to saddle the state’s taxpayers with the costs of caring for those who are injured or the survivors of those killed due to corporate negligence,” Browder said.

I-LAW is traveling with a billboard truck in front of the courthouses, passing out flyers asking, “Do we want more jobs or more lawsuits?”

“The Rams play the Packers this weekend, and imagine how outraged Rams fans would be if a Packers player retired this week and was then immediately appointed as a referee for this weekend’s game between his old team and the Rams,” Akin said. “Through huge campaign contributions to judges and getting one of their own appointed to the judiciary, it seems like the personal injury lawyers have fixed the game in their favor.”

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald

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