Trial lawyers donated more than $35 million to Illinois politicians over 15 years
Campaign contributions by trial lawyers to Illinois politicians and judges came to more than $35.25 million in the past 15 years and most of it didn't go through the state's Trial Lawyers Association, according to a new study.
"House Democrats and Senate Democrats are the main benefactors," Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch Director Travis Akins during a Metro East Sun email interview.
That figure includes about $6 million contributed to politicians in the state through the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, according to a study issued earlier this week by Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch, in conjunction with Illinois Civil Justice League and the American Tort Reform Association. Of that amount, more than $5 million went to Democrats in the state House and Senate, dwarfing the approximately $86,000 donated to Republicans in the General Assembly through the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, according to the study, entitled "Justice for Sale III," from January 2001 through March 2016.
The top five law firms that donated to Democrats in the General Assembly via the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, at between $256,500 to $265,600 each, were Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard; Clifford Law Offices; Power Rogers & Smith; Cooney & Conway and Korien Tillery.
Far more money was donated by trial lawyers to state politicians over the past 15 years, according to the study. More than $12 million in donations by trial lawyers to Democrats in the state House and Senate and about $33,000 in donations to Republicans in the General Assembly did not go through the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association according to the study.
The study reveals far more than a preference among trial lawyers for Democrat politicians in the state, Akins said. "This study proves that personal injury lawyers are gaming the system to their advantage by funneling millions of dollars in campaign contributions to Illinois judges, who continue to allow junk lawsuits that have nothing to do with Illinois to move forward here, prompting the question, 'Is justice for sale in Illinois?
"Personal injury lawyers fuel the campaigns of judges who then make favorable rulings for their campaign donors which generates even more money for personal injury lawyers to pump into judicial campaigns. It is a vicious cycle that has to be broken. We need to stop the cycle at its source by ensuring that Illinois is no longer a favorite destination for lawsuit tourists. When personal injury lawyers continue to game the system to their advantage, it is no wonder our state is a favorite destination for personal injury lawyers looking to hit the lawsuit lottery."
The study tracks campaign contributions have gone to legislators, constitutional officers, judges, state’s attorneys, county board chairmen, circuit clerks, county party chairmen, mayors, union leaders and politically allied special interests according to a press release issued with the study.
“Our study documents a truly staggering flow of plaintiffs’ bar cash,” Illinois Civil Justice League President John Pastuovic said in the press release. “The more than $35 million in contributions equates to roughly $264 every hour of every day for the past 15 years.”
The donations were aimed at making Illinois tort all the more trial lawyer friend, Pastuovic said, pointing particularly to developments in Madison County during the study period.
"During the study period, Madison County set an infamous national record for the most new class-action filings in a year, and a statewide medical liability crisis threatened critical care for Illinois patients," he said. "Meanwhile, lawyers and judges in Madison County built the nation’s largest and most notorious asbestos docket, attracting some 13,220 individual asbestos case filings in 15 years. In fact, sources now estimate that one-quarter of all asbestos cases filed nationwide in 2015 were filed there. With an estimated outcome of $2 million per case, the Madison County asbestos ‘rocket docket’ could be worth more than $1.74 billion annually and could produce nearly $600 million annually in contingency fees for plaintiffs’ attorneys."
The largest trial lawyer donations supported campaigns in Cook, Madison and St. Clair counties, according to the study.
“Madison, St. Clair and Cook counties have been featured regularly in the American Tort Reform Association’s extensively documented reporting on some the nation’s most unfair civil court jurisdictions,” ATRA President Tiger Joyce said in the press release. “So the findings of Justice for Sale, quantifying as they do a disturbing level of influence exerted by the plaintiffs’ bar on the judges in these counties and lawmakers in Springfield, are particularly troubling to us."
Illinois needs better judges than that, Akins told the Metro East Sun.
"Illinois needs judges who will stand up to the personal injury lawyers and return common sense and fairness to our courts," he said. "This report highlights the cozy relationship between judges and the personal injury lawyers who fuel their campaigns. Law firms have every right to be a part of the political process but the public needs to know what they are doing and who is benefiting from their campaign contributions."