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SPRINGFIELD - Illinois Republicans called for more legal reforms Wednesday, including a measure to stop lawyers from shopping for sympathetic judges.

Republican lawmakers, joined by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, argued that Illinois' legal system makes the state inhospitable for businesses that may choose to locate in bordering states.

"Our state has over many years established the reputation that we believe in shakedown justice and that businesses are not likely to get a fair hearing or fair trial in our state," said Doug Whitley, the state Chamber president. "Our reputation is directly tied to job creation and economic growth. This state needs job creation and economic growth."

The Illinois AFL-CIO argued that the justice system is not to blame for the state's job losses.

"The large corporate interests pushing this legislation are the same companies that are outsourcing jobs, cutting pension plans and laying off workers," said Michael T. Carrigan, the union's secretary-treasurer in a prepared statement.

Last year, the legislature and governor approved medical malpractice reforms that included caps on non-economic damages handed out by juries.

Many of the proposals don't have much chance in a Democrat-controlled General Assembly, but a proposal restricting where lawyers could file lawsuits could be debated in coming weeks.

Another proposal would require class action lawsuits to be heard in counties were most plaintiffs reside.

"Illinois has a national reputation where we waste a lot of time and a lot of taxpayer money on letting people that have no reason to be in Illinois be part of a national class action lawsuit," said State Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale. "That keeps your and my cases, as Illinois residents, from coming to trial."

Illinois also has been a preferred venue for lawsuits filed by people claiming they were made ill by asbestos, a flame retardant material linked to lung ailments.

To cut down on these types of lawsuits, the lawmakers also are proposing legislation that would allow defense attorneys to present evidence suggesting that a victim's asbestos-related illness could have been caused by other sources.

Lynda DeLaforgue, co-director for Citizen Action/Illinois, argued that many of the reforms give big business an advantage over working families in the court system.

"Our nation's courts are the one place where ordinary people - those without access to wealth and power - can get justice and hold big corporations accountable," she said in a prepared statement.


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