Fully 8 in 10 Illinois voters see a need to reform the civil court system in Illinois and more than 70 percent support the provisions of the Common Sense Courts Act, a proposal that would curb “venue shopping” by requiring a real connection between a lawsuit and the county in which it is brought. The poll of 800 Illinois voters was conducted by the national polling firm Garin-Hart-Yang Research.
Conducted on behalf of the Coalition for Common Sense Courts, a growing group of Illinois business leaders and mayors, the poll showed that Democratic and Republican voters alike back the proposal, which would end the practice of out-of-state and out-of-county suits being filed in counties having little or nothing to do with the case.
“Citizens and businesses can be dragged to far-away courts and deprived of having their cases heard by local judges or a jury of their peers, all because Illinois doesn’t require plaintiffs to establish a real link to where they file the lawsuit,” said Jerry Roper, president of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of the Coalition for Common Sense Courts. “It is casting a pall on business growth in this state. Our legislation aims to fix this loophole and bring common sense to our courts.
“This is court reform, not tort reform, that everybody can agree on.”
Driven by concerns over judicial fairness, the business climate and jobs, 85 percent of Republican voters want to see reform of Illinois’ civil legal system, and they are joined by 75 percent of Democrats and 84 independents, the poll found.
“This is perhaps the biggest no-brainer before the General Assembly in recent years,” said Rick Baker, president of the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of the Coalition for Common Sense Courts. “Here we are with the fifth worst judicial climate in the country, yet we sit idle while state after state acts to fix their court systems.
“It’s pretty simple — cases that don’t belong should not be clogging Illinois courts. It’s been open season too long in Illinois — Illinois should stand for justice, not abuse and waste.”
Overall, 87 percent of Illinois voters say a compelling reason to support the bill is that it will ensure that cases have a true relevance to the location where they are filed.
Eighty-four percent say another compelling reason to support the bill is that they will not have to foot the bill for those cases being filed where they don’t belong. And by a five to one margin, voters say they are more likely rather than less likely to vote for a legislator who supports the bill.
Senate Bill 1724, the Common Sense Courts Act, would put in place basic criteria:
— the lawsuit must be filed in a county with a real connection to the
injury or wrongdoing that took place; or
— whomever is being sued must reside in the county where the lawsuit is filed.
Current requirements are much looser, allowing for suits to be brought to any Illinois counties from anywhere. The bill would require a suit be filed and tried in the county where the most significant act or event took place, not where some random small connection to the act or event took place.
For example, a lawnmower accident in Michigan involving a mower manufactured in South Carolina by an Ohio company resulted in a lawsuit brought in Cook County, Illinois, against the manufacturer and Sears because the mower had been purchased at a Sears store in Michigan, and Sears is headquartered in Cook County.
Under the Common Sense Courts Act, the Illinois court could not take up the case because the Illinois connection is the weakest compared to the connection to Michigan, South Carolina or Ohio. (For more examples of such cases, and for more bill information, visit http://www.commonsensecourts.org/ .)
The current criteria contribute to Illinois being ranked 46th among U.S. States for the quality of its judicial climate by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Illinois has also earned the unwelcome distinction of having two of its counties, St. Clair and Madison, dubbed as the nation’s two worst “judicial hellholes” by the American Tort Reform Association.
Other states that were once home to “judicial hellholes” have begun to institute similar legislative reform to their civil court systems.
In 2004, for example, Mississippi passed legislation containing provisions similar to the Common Sense Courts Act. Ninety-six percent of experts weighing in for the U.S. Chamber’s rankings said they expect that state’s litigation environment to improve significantly as the legislation begins to take effect. A comprehensive civil justice reform bill, which includes a venue reform component, is currently moving through the Missouri legislature. Illinois now stands as one of the only states not fixing its judicial system.
“It’s clear that the current system leads to abuse,” said Jim Uszler, executive director of the Mount Prospect Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of the coalition. “Everybody knows the system is broken, and this bill is a smart, common sense way to fix it.”
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