On Aug. 31, The Pantagraph printed a “Viewpoint” piece written by Lisa Rickard of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, located in Washington, D.C. (“McLean County courts should end farce”).

It marked the second time in the last few months that The Pantagraph has printed an article that attacked our community’s judges and juries.

The Pantagraph, and its readers, should know Ms. Rickard is wrong when she says our judges are “rogue.” Our local judges have been upholding and following the law.

Civil conspiracy law has existed in Illinois for over 100 years. In McLean County, as well as numerous other Central Illinois counties, asbestos conspiracy claims have been heard and judged fairly by judges and juries for over 20 years.

The claims began decades ago as a result of legal discovery that revealed how a number of asbestos companies conspired to suppress information about the harmful effects of asbestos so that they could continue to make millions of dollars selling asbestos products.

Ms. Rickard’s colorful article characterizes the conspiracy claims filed in McLean County asbestos cases as a “farce,” “bogus” and not “legitimate.” But unlike Ms. Rickard, our juries, like our judges, have spent countless hours listening to the evidence, weighing it and reaching fair and just verdicts.

Since 2005 alone, 132 jurors in 11 different trials have heard evidence from both sides and returned verdicts in favor of those injured, finding the asbestos companies guilty of civil conspiracy. Trials have been held in multiple counties, not just McLean County, with six different judges presiding.

The claims are not “bogus.” Rather, they are vindicated time and again by regular citizens just like you and your neighbors, who decided the cases not based on what they heard in public relations smear campaigns by industry-funded organizations such as Rickard’s (whose membership consists of companies such as Honeywell), but rather on the evidence presented fairly in our local courts. 

Ms. Rickard paints a demeaning picture of our judges and juries as unsophisticated country bumpkins, who have somehow been bamboozled by the victims’ attorneys who “reach deep into their bag of tricks” to fool them. She claims that there have been 15 McLean County conspiracy verdicts heard by the appellate court and 11 instances where the Illinois appellate and supreme courts have overruled our local courts in asbestos conspiracy actions. None of these claims are true.

Perhaps Ms. Rickard should spend more time in our courts rather than in Washington, D.C. If she did, she would know that until last month, there was never an appellate decision saying plaintiffs had insufficient evidence of conspiracy as to Honeywell and Pneumo Abex, the two companies she discusses in her commentary.

She would also learn the Illinois Supreme Court in 1992 affirmed a judgment for the family of Herbert Adcock, who worked at UNARCO, based on civil conspiracy. That decision has not been overruled and remains good law today.

By reading the actual court opinions, you will find what the courts have made clear is the opposite of what Ms. Rickard suggests. There is no support for Ms. Rickard’s allegation that our local courts have not followed appellate and supreme court precedent. To suggest otherwise is an insult to the intelligence and integrity of our local judges.

As opposed to Ms. Rickard, we believe our local courts keep getting it right, whereas the recent decision by the appellate court was wrongfully decided. This decision departs from decades of Illinois precedent and is already subject to a petition for rehearing.

Our courts are supposed to be a place where an average citizen can have an equal playing field with Wall Street. Rickard’s efforts are designed only to tip that field in favor of business by trying to intimidate our judges and juries.

We do not have any plans to “give up” as requested by Ms. Rickard and her corporate allies in Washington. 

Since companies pursued profits at the cost of workers’ lives, we will continue to pursue compensation for those whose lives have been wrongfully taken by corporate greed, and we will continue to defend the integrity of our courts and community from outside attacks by lobbying groups who seek to take our rights to a free court system away.

James Wylder is a partner in the Bloomington law firm Wylder Corwin Kelly and has represented people exposed to asbestos, and their families, for over 25 years. Lisa Corwin and Andrew Kelly, who also are partners in the firm, participated in writing this commentary.


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