Today I attended a seminar at the Washington University School of Law. Hosted by The Washington University Journal of Law & Policy, it concerned civil litigation in Madison County, Illinois, where I've practiced since 1990. (Thanks to Justin of musclehead for giving me the heads up about the conference.)
Even though I am not a journalist, I sat between reporters for the Associated Press and the Alton Telegraph. Since I take notes pretty fast, I was able to help out the AP reporter on my left with a quote. Meanwhile, the Telegraph reporter on my right kept me engaged with some witty banter (whispered, of course).
Okay, so maybe I'm burying the lead. In the keynote speech, Griffin Bell,* who admitted he'd never set foot in Madison County, called on the Justice Department and the FBI to investigate the judges and lawyers of Madison County. He wasn't completely clear as to why, but it had something to do with his charge that an investigation might turn up a "pattern and practice" of denying due process rights to corporations. He later said there "might not be anything to these stories," failing to explain what "stories" he was talking about. (Maybe it was the stories he'd heard that in Madison County, big corporations are sometimes held accountable for their harmful actions.)
In response to Bell's call for an investigation, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers on the panel said "bring it on." This lawyer also added that as long as the FBI was busy investigating, it should also take a look at which giant industries, e.g., the tobacco industry, are behind the orchestrated efforts to slander the judges and lawyers of Madison County. He predicted the slander won't stop until the judges and juries in our county bow to the intimidation. (Or, as another participant added, until tort "reform" has its intended effect of making all consumer protections extinct in the U.S.)
I'm sure there will be more about the seminar tomorrow from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which sent two reporters. Perhaps I'll respond to their article once I'm back from my 8:30 a.m. court hearing. (At the seminar, by the way, I learned from a defense lawyer that plaintiffs' lawyers in Madison County always win when a defendant files a motion to dismiss. Often, I learned, plaintiffs' lawyers don't even file a response to the motion. This was good news, because it means I won't have to prepare for tomorrow's hearing. And that response I filed yesterday? Shame on me for bothering!)
One more thing. On Monday, the Belleville News-Democrat published an article by Brian Brueggemann titled "Jury verdict draws national attention." The article concerned a 2003 verdict in Madison County against U.S. Steel for $250 million, which included a $200 million punitive award. This verdict was portrayed in the article as something that makes the community look bad. At the seminar today, I learned from the lawyer who tried the case that the Madison County judge threw out the punitive part of the award shortly after the jury returned its verdict. After that, the case was settled for less than $50 million.
The tort reformers can go ahead and engage in their scare tactics if they want--$50 million is still a lot of money. But wouldn't it be nice if everyone at least took the time to tell the whole story?
*Partner at King & Spalding in Atlanta, which represents many large corporations; 72nd Attorney General of the United States; former United States Circuit Judge of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Bio here.