CHICAGO, May 7, 2004--A Madison County plaintiffs' law firm unintentionally "honored" The Heartland Institute this week for its work on behalf of tort reform, though the "honor" is outrageous and abusive.
Heartland was among 35 prestigious tort reform organizations targeted by the plaintiffs in all asbestos cases filed by the SimmonsCooper law firm in that county, which has been designated as a "Judicial Hellhole" by the American Tort Reform Association. Madison County, located in southwestern Illinois near St. Louis, has the highest rate in the United States of class action lawsuits on a per-capita basis.
The plaintiffs want the defendants in these asbestos cases, as well as all of their officers, directors, employees, and insurers, to disclose their membership in and contributions to The Heartland Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Illinois Civil Justice League, The Manhattan Institute, and other such groups dedicated to tort reform.
"Heartland is obviously in very good company," said its Senior Fellow for Legal Affairs, Maureen Martin, "but the interrogatories are outrageous and abusive."
"The information that the plaintiffs are seeking is totally irrelevant to whether they were allegedly injured by asbestos," she said. "This would normally mean that the judge would rule that plaintiffs can't get this information, but that is unlikely to happen in Madison County."
She noted that John Simmons, head of the plaintiffs' firm, was among the plaintiffs' trial lawyers who donated a total of $593,061 to the reelection campaigns of Madison County judges, according to a 2002 study by the Illinois Civil Justice League and the Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch entitled "Justice for Sale." This amount constituted 77% of all such contributions.
"This is a shameful scare tactic directed at organizations devoted to reforming our civil justice system," Martin said. "The only reason for asking for the plaintiff's involvement with The Heartland Institute and other entities that support tort reform is to attempt to bully and invade constitutional rights of association. This is a perfect example of why we need tort reform now, more than ever," Martin said.
Formerly a partner in a large Chicago law firm, Martin has been in the private practice of law for more than 22 years, concentrating in general litigation and environmental law on behalf of business and industry. She has practiced in state and federal courts throughout the country, including Illinois, Wisconsin, New York, New Jersey, and California. She has received the highest possible rating of AV for legal ability and legal ethics from Martindale-Hubbell. From 1991 through 2002, she was an adjunct professor of environmental law at Loyola University Chicago.