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Press Release


Grassroots watchdog points to recent questionable actions by local judges and urges people to "Blow the whistle on personal injury lawyers and judges who game the system"

(Marion, IL) - At rallies today outside the Madison and St. Clair County courthouses, Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch (I-LAW), a non-partisan grassroots legal watchdog, was joined by local supporters to call attention to recent questionable actions by local judges that have helped cement the Metro-East's reputation as a "judicial hellhole."

Adopting a football theme for the rallies, the assembled I-LAW supporters threw yellow penalty flags and blew referee whistles next to a mobile billboard truck which displayed the messages, "Blow the whistle on personal injury lawyers and judges who game the system" and "Throw the penalty flag on unsportsmanlike judicial conduct."

Recently, three Metro-East circuit court judges who are up for retention elections next year - which require a 60% "Yes" vote to be retained- announced they are vacating their seats and will not run for retention and will instead seek election in the newly-created vacancies they are creating through in open seat elections next year that only require a simple majority to win. The three judges are John Baricevic, Robert Haida and Robert LeChien.

"These judges, who have received numerous campaign contributions from personal injury lawyers, are now following the lead of their friends in the plaintiffs' bar who repeatedly game the system in the Metro-East to make sure they win and cash in," said Travis Akin, executive director of I-LAW. "These judges want to change the rules mid-game for their own personal benefit. Taking a page from a football referee's rulebook, it's time to blow the whistle on these types of shenanigans and throw the penalty flag on 'unsportsmanlike judicial conduct.'"

At the rally in front of the Madison County courthouse, I-LAW supporters threw penalty flags in response to the recent appointment to the bench of a lawyer from the personal injury law firm that over the past several years has filed the most asbestos lawsuits in the Madison County courthouse, almost all of which are from plaintiffs that have no connection to Madison County.

The lawyer, Jennifer Hightower, who is only six years removed from graduating laws school, was appointed an associate judge for the Third Judicial Circuit, which covers Madison County.

"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. 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."

Akin continued, "They win, but we lose, because these judicial shenanigans and the frequent filing of lawsuits here that have no common sense connection to the Metro-East have cemented our region's reputation as a haven for personal injury lawyers and a hell for local businesses who are frequently the targets of these junk lawsuits. The Metro-East's lawsuit abuse epidemic is making it extremely hard to attract new employers and the badly-needed jobs they would bring."

This view is backed up by the release last month of the 2015 Lawsuit Climate Survey, conducted by Harris Poll, which ranked Illinois near the bottom of the nation in terms of its lawsuit environment - 48th worst of the 50 states. The survey also ranked Madison County the third-worst city or county for lawsuit fairness.

The survey results came from interviews of more than 1,200 corporate lawyers and senior executives at companies with more than $100 million in revenue. Over 75 percent of the business leaders surveyed by Harris Poll for this report say lawsuit climate is a "significant factor" in determining where to expand and grow.

Governor Bruce Rauner has proposed lawsuit reform legislation that includes a proposal that will stop personal injury lawyers from shopping around for the friendliest court jurisdiction, even if the lawsuit has nothing to do with that jurisdiction. This practice, often called "venue shopping," is all too common in Illinois - The Harris Poll report ranked Illinois the worst state in the country for venue abuse and court shopping.

Akin explained, "For far too long, the Metro-East has been a magnet for personal injury lawyers and plaintiffs from all over the country who travel here and clog our courts with junk lawsuits that have nothing to do with this area, all in the hopes of striking it rich playing our region's plaintiff-friendly lawsuit lottery.

"It's just common sense to require lawsuits filed in Illinois to have an actual connection to Illinois, and yet in Madison County, 98% of the asbestos lawsuits filed there are for plaintiffs who do not live in that county. That is an absurd misuse of our courts and our tax dollars, and it victimizes all of us.

"We need to create jobs in Illinois, not more lawsuits, which is why I-LAW applauds Governor Rauner for taking the lead to weed out junk lawsuits here and restore fairness to our courts. Governor Rauner's reasonable, common sense lawsuit reforms will create jobs and unclog our courts, which will speed the legal process for those with legitimate claims.

The Metro-East courthouse rallies are part of a weeklong series of events in recognition of this week being "Lawsuit Abuse Awareness Week" in Illinois.

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