The following letter to the editor by ITLA President J. Matthew Dudley was published in Crain’s Chicago Business on September 1, 2021.
New law makes for fairer courts
In a recent letter (“New Illinois law perpetuates frivolous courts,” Aug. 25, 2021), Illinois Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie cites a survey commissioned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to perpetuate unfounded claims against Illinois’ civil justice system. He further claims the creation of a new judicial district is not based on the reality of demographic change but some sinister motive to help plaintiff’s lawyers.
A review of readily available statistics for the Illinois civil justice system completely refutes Senator McConchie’s assertions and shows the opinions of the surveyed corporate counsel to be unsupported by the evidence. Perhaps the actual reason no empirical data is cited by either the survey or the good Senator is much like Illinois own Carl Sandburg’s famous quote,” When the facts and law are against you pound the table and yell like hell!”
The truth is that the number of Illinois civil lawsuits has dropped by 42 percent since 2010. Cook County filings have declined 50 percent from 2010 to 2019. In downstate Madison County, a frequent target of critics, since 2013 there has been a 51 percent reduction in civil lawsuits, while asbestos claims alone are down 22 percent. Additionally, the “lawsuit pandemic” due to COVID-19 which was predicted by so many (including Senator McConchie) has proven to be just the latest example of overblown false rhetoric from the anti-justice lobby.
The reason St. Clair County deserves its own judicial circuit has everything to do with demographic changes and nothing to do with asbestos cases or any other personal injury litigation. St. Clair County has experienced population growth at a far greater rate than other counties in their judicial circuit. When this occurs, judicial circuits need to be re-drawn to accommodate those changes. Without action, the smaller populated counties in the circuit lose influence and importance to the far more highly populated counties. For example, two counites which are represented by Senator McConchie, Lake and McHenry Counties were split into their own judicial circuits in 2006. This move was necessitated by population growth which made it impractical, inefficient, and inequitable to have both counties within the 19th Judicial Circuit. The move was not met with histrionics or false claims of ill motive but was viewed as necessary and prudent.
It is also impossible to reconcile McConchie’s contention that Illinois is anti-business with regular stories in this publication touting corporate relocations to the Chicagoland area in conjunction with booming residential construction downtown. For the eighth consecutive year, Site Selection magazine ranked Chicago as the “Top Metro” for corporate investment in the United States. Both Madison and St. Clair Counties, areas decried by Senator McConchie, have enjoyed multi decade population and economic growth.
Meanwhile, two major Illinois based insurers (both major financers of those critical of the civil justice system) were very profitable, despite the pandemic. Even after refunds theses insurers offered their customers, State Farm and Allstate raked in nearly $4 billion and $5.5 billion, respectively, in 2020.
Illinois proves that a state can support businesses and protect its residents when they have been the victims of corporate negligence or malfeasance. Senator McConchie has never advocated for limitations on the access of corporate of business interests to the courts, he should afford individual citizens the same.
J. Matthew Dudley
President, Illinois Trial Lawyers Association