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On Dec. 30, The Pantagraph ran an editorial quoting portions of the American Tort Reform Association’s “Judicial Hellhole” report and a letter to the editor from Travis Akin of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch on the same subject.

ATRA’s annual release of the “report” is nothing more than a public relations stunt bankrolled by certain tobacco, chemical and drug companies to attack the civil justice system and gain immunity for their misconduct. Akin is the sole employee of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch, another front for the same corporate interests.

I represented the plaintiff in the recent asbestos trial during which Judge Paul Lawrence denied a motion by the Illinois Manufacturers Association to quash a subpoena I served upon its director.

ATRA asserts IMA should have been excused from complying “because the IMA was not party to the suit.” That is not the law.

Provide evidence

Individuals often provide evidence in cases to which they are not parties, e.g., eyewitness testimony regarding collisions or crimes, information and records from doctors and hospitals regarding treatment provided to patients, etc.

Every defendant was a current or former member of IMA and it possessed information and documents relevant to the case. Judge Lawrence’s ruling was both factually and legally correct. IMA could have appealed. It did not. 

Akin charged that Judge Lawrence and “another local judge forced one company to appear as a defendant in two different trails at the same time.” Akin does not name the “company.” ATRA’s website identifies it as Pneumo Abex (Abex). Although Akin’s charge is less than half true (more about that later), it raises a much broader issue. 

The Pantagraph headlined Akin’s letter with “McLean County vies for ‘judicial hellhole’ status” and printed it next to the editorial which allowed that McLean County had not yet become a “true” judicial hellhole. It is regrettable that The Pantagraph joined ATRA in any use of “hellhole” to describe our courts, whatever the qualifier. If any aspect of our community is deserving of a “hellhole” label, it is our epidemic of asbestos disease, not the performance of our judiciary.

Union Asbestos

The Jan. 29, 1963, Industrial Progress Edition of The Pantagraph glowingly described how Union Asbestos opened operations in Bloomington at 1111 W. Perry in 1950. The article featured photos of four local men standing by machines Union Asbestos moved here from Cicero.

The story does not mention Union Asbestos relocated here to obtain a healthy workforce because its Cicero workforce had become riddled with asbestos disease. History was repeated in Bloomington. All four of the men pictured in the article have since died of asbestos disease — Emil Badovinatz at age 60, Bill Mau at age 47, George Redman at age 43 and Jim Sumey at age 43.

Asbestos shipped to 1111 W. Perry has caused the disability and death of hundreds of individuals who resided near, worked at or lived in the household of someone who worked at the plant. Individuals are still being diagnosed with asbestosis, mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer today, even though asbestos was last incorporated into products at the plant in the 1970s.

Courts everywhere, including those in McLean County, give priority to the trial of cases involving individuals suffering from mesothelioma, the always fatal asbestos cancer from which the patient typically dies within 10 to 18 months of diagnosis. 

Exposed to asbestos

Two such cases were scheduled for trial in McLean County beginning Oct. 4. My client was exposed to asbestos from the clothing and person of her father, who worked at Union Asbestos when she was ages 10 and 11. She was diagnosed in January. The jury returned its verdict on Nov. 19. She died Dec. 11. If Judge Lawrence had granted the defendants all of the delay they requested, my client would have been denied her day in court.

Back to Akin’s charge that Abex was forced to appear in two trials at the same time. Abex has a nationwide network of experienced lawyers and often is involved in more than one trial at a time. But not in October. Abex settled and was dismissed from one of the cases on the first day of trial.

Rather than joining ATRA’s unfounded attacks on our judges, The Pantagraph should be lending its support to the members of our judiciary who are dealing with a situation not of their own making — claims arising from our “hellhole” of asbestos disease that are being aggressively defended by members of ATRA.

James Walker is an attorney practicing in Bloomington. He has been involved in representing individuals who have contracted asbestos disease since 1975.

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