Watchdog: Southern Illinois voters rule personal-injury lawyer lobby out of order
Demonstrating their preference for judges and legislators unafraid of personal-injury attorneys’ clout, Illinois voters made their views on the matter of lawsuit abuse abundantly clear on Election Day, a state watchdog group said.
Over $1 million in campaign donations were funneled into high-end campaign materials, some of which was used to target two particular southern Illinois judges who ended up winning open seats: Judge John Barberis and Judge James “Randy” Moore.
Travis Akin, executive director of the nonpartisan grassroots organization Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch (ILAW), said personal-injury lawyers have managed to build a powerful coalition by actively manipulating the state judiciary branch for their own financial benefit.
During this election cycle, a number of Illinois-based personal-injury lawyers established “Fair Courts Now,” a political action committee (PAC) devised to channel funds to their preferred candidates for two available seats in southern Illinois’ Fifth District Appellate Court.
“Too many southern Illinois judges have allowed personal-injury lawyers to game the system and turn Illinois courts into their own personally profitable playgrounds,” Akin said.
Akin also said attorneys specializing in the personal-injury sector have intentionally worked together to craft courts that tend to be “plaintiff-friendly,” then deliberately exploit the system to their advantage en masse, resulting in what he called a “lawsuit abuse epidemic” deterring small businesses and jobs.
“These wealthy personal-injury lawyers have spent many millions over the past decade electing their buddies to serve as judges, but this week, voters said, ‘Enough!’" Akin said. “Voters showed they want judges who will stand up to the personal-injury lawyers and say no to lawsuits that have no common-sense connection to Illinois.”
Akin reiterated that voters want judges to curb lawsuit abuse in southern Illinois and, additionally, help attract employers currently unwilling to settle in a region where their businesses face too much risk legally.
Barberis and Moore were not the only judges to make news this month. Also in southern Illinois, St. Clair County’s Twentieth Judicial Circuit Chief Judge John Baricevic — nicknamed as one of the nation’s worst “Judicial Hellholes” by the American Tort Reform Foundation — was ousted following his previous overt attempt to manipulate the system.
Baricevic’s mistake was to avoid regulations pertaining to running for re-election as judge. By first announcing that he would not seek another term, then running as if for the first time to fill the open seat that his announcement created, he effectively managed to carve out a candidacy for which the absolute majority necessary to win was substantially reduced.
“Chief Judge Baricevic wanted to change the rules mid-game for his own personal benefit,” Akin said. “But like a football referee who blows the whistle on a penalty in a game, voters blew the whistle Tuesday on a judge for unsportsmanlike judicial conduct and for transparently trying to game the system to his advantage.”
Baricevic lost his seat, regardless of “tens of thousands of dollars” in campaign donations from many of the very lawyers who have brought cases to his court before. Two others in southern Illinois lawmakers also lost their seats despite rich election coffers.
“Voters sent a clear message to their judges and legislators Tuesday, telling them lawsuit abuse must be stopped,” Akin said. “Gov. Bruce Rauner has proposed lawsuit-reform legislation that will restore common sense and fairness to our courts and help keep business from leaving for states that have fairer lawsuit systems.”
Akin said ILAW will continue to monitor Illinois meticulously in the near future to ascertain whether lawmakers have “heard the cry for reform” from voters, and whether they will finally confront personal-injury lawyers and pass common-sense lawsuit reforms in the next General Assembly.