From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "U.S. senators debate Madison County courts' reputation," by Ed Ronco--
The Madison County Circuit Court in Illinois is to some a "judicial hellhole," to others a "jackpot jurisdiction." But for nearly everyone it's Exhibit A in the debate on class-action reform.
On the U.S. Senate floor this week, Madison County has been cited by both supporters and critics of the bill backed by President George W. Bush that would restrict attorney fees in class-action lawsuits and limit where such cases can be heard. For every senator nailing the county as the epitome of judicial abuse there has been another saying it's all a bum rap.
What's interesting to me about the article is that the senators have apparently been talking about one of my cases. Here's more from the article:
"Madison County is not chosen as the venue because of its quaint scenery," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "It is chosen because defendants in these class actions often do not get a fair shake in Madison County."
Hatch said "due process itself is corrupted by this circus ... judges who seem to be in the pockets of trial lawyers" and lawyers in that venue who anticipate "almost a guaranteed, outrageous award every time they go into court."
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., sprang to Madison County's defense, noting that most class-action suits brought in the county are never certified to proceed as a class action. Of the suits filed in 2002, only four were certified, Durbin said. One suit was certified in 2003 and no suits made it through in 2004.
The one case that was certified in 2003 was a lawsuit I filed against a travel company. That case is over now; there were 400,000 class members. I'm happy to report that the company has changed its act. Meanwhile, I'd also like to say to Senator Hatch: I chose Madison County as a venue not only for its quaint scenery, but because it's where I practice. (To be perfectly accurate, when the first two Madison County clients walked in the door, only Andrea was working over here; my office was in Clayton, Missouri. Even so, I've been litigating cases in Madison County since 1990.) When I filed the lawsuit in 2000, I was not anticipating "a guaranteed, outrageous award." I was anticipating having to work for years for my clients and the class, which is what I did.
Perhaps Senator Hatch can understand why I get a little annoyed by sound bites that are rooted in fiction, not fact. If he's ever in Madison County, I'd be happy to show him around and take him to lunch. I'll demonstrate how I have some spare change in my pockets, but no judges. I'll also introduce him to the people who brought the lawsuit against the travel company; had the new class-action bill he's supporting been the law in 2000, their case would never have gotten off the ground.