POINT: Should lawyers be able to contribute to judicial candidates?
Governor has the right idea: Ban such donations and implement reform
By TRAVIS AKIN
The economy in Illinois continues to be a cause for major concern. The combination of high taxes, over regulation and lawsuit abuse have created an exodus of jobs and opportunities from the Land of Lincoln to other states with a more friendly business climate.
Gov. Bruce Rauner wants to change course and make Illinois a destination for jobs and opportunities. The governor rightly has made lawsuit reform a priority.
His plan calls for reasonable venue reform, joint and several liability reforms, a Constitutional amendment to cap unreasonable judgments and settlements, and medical malpractice reform. Rauner also advocated for a better system of selecting judges in Illinois.
The truth is our courts are being clogged with junk lawsuits from all across the country while moving vans are taking Illinois residents and Illinois jobs to other parts of the country. Illinois ranks 46th out of 50 states for legal fairness, according to a recent survey from the respected Harris polling company and is home to Madison County, the nation’s fifth-worst “Judicial Hellhole,” according to a recent report from the American Tort Reform Foundation.
As I travel around the state, I hear from small business owners who have either made plans or are thinking about making plans to move to states such as Iowa and Wisconsin where these small businesses are far less likely to be sued. It’s no surprise to learn the Land of Lincoln led the nation in outbound moves in 2014, according to Allied Van Lines.
The end result of Illinois’ status as the “Lawsuit Abuse Capital of the Midwest” is loss of jobs and loss of opportunities. Illinois ranked dead last in the Midwest for new payroll jobs added to the economy in 2014 while Iowa ranked 14th and Wisconsin 20th, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
What Illinois needs is not more of the same. What Illinois needs is more jobs, not more lawsuits. Our neighbors in Wisconsin and Iowa have made lawsuit reform a priority while lawmakers in Illinois have consistently ignored the state’s lawsuit abuse problem.
Gov. Rauner rightly recognizes that the status quo in Illinois is not working and his reforms are aimed at turning the economy around. The need for reform in Illinois is especially true when it comes to how we select our judges. Personal injury campaign donations raise some serious questions about the integrity of the process.
To use a sports analogy, no one would trust the opinions of a referee who is taking money from one of the teams on the field. So what confidence can we have in the opinions of a judge whose campaign is taking money from personal injury lawyers?
Madison County residents are no strangers to what happens when judges and personal injury lawyers become too cozy. In December of 2011 Madison County Judge Barbara Crowder was removed from the asbestos docket after it was revealed that she awarded 82 percent of the 2013 asbestos trial slots in Madison County to three personal injury lawyer firms that coincidentally gave her campaign $30,000.
Improving the way judges are selected should be a priority for lawmakers. One possible solution would be to move to a system in which an independent review panel would make recommendations to the governor and the governor would appoint the judges who would then stand before the voters in a retention election. Such a system would provide assurances that prospective judges are qualified to serve while at the same time giving voters a chance to support or reject the governor’s nominees.
There is plenty of room for debate on what specific reforms should be ultimately enacted, but the fact that these issues are even being debated is a step in the right direction. Gov. Rauner deserves credit for taking on these important issues. Ignoring the need for lawsuit reform has helped contribute to Illinois being the slowest state in the country to recover from the Great Recession. It is time for our legislators to stand up to the personal injury lawyers and start working to pass common sense lawsuit reforms that will help create badly-needed jobs in Illinois.
Travis Akin is executive director, of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch. I-LAW is a grassroots watchdog group of concerned citizens, community leaders and small business people dedicated to educating the public about the widespread costs of lawsuit abuse. I-LAW has more than 20,000 supporters throughout Illinois. Anyone interested in becoming a supporter of I-LAW or learning more about stopping lawsuit abuse in Illinois can visit www.ILLawsuitAbuseWatch.org.