On Legal Reform, Progress

By November 20, 2006Briefly Legal

Lawyers are no longer feeling the love in Madison County.

You may recall that last year Congress finally passed the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA). Passage was helped by the large number of manufacturers and other businesses who weighed in, pushing this bill over the goal line after some 7 years — seven years — in gestation. Couldn’t get it over the 60-vote line in the Senate, the minority frustrating the will of the majority, so there it sat. But it finally was dislodged, passed by a wide margin and signed into law.

At the signing ceremony, the President noted that in Madison County, Illinois — long one of ATRA’s “Judicial Hellholes,” there were exactly two class actions field there in 1998. By 2004, that number had grown to 82, all enormous cases, all involving cases where the vast majority of plaintiffs and defendants were not from Madison County. No matter, the courts were friendly to plaintiffs so the filings proliferated. By February of 2005, 24 class actions were filed, including 20 in one week, spurred by the specter of CAFA’s signing.

In the eighteen months since CAFA’s enactment, there have been exactly 12 class actions filed in Madison County. Every one of them were single-state claims. (Thanks to Jessica Miller of O’Melveny and Myers for these stats.)

Progress is sometimes slow in this city, and legal reform is certainly the hundred years’ war, as the trial bar is wise to plow a goodly portion of its lucre back into campaign chests. But this is a great lesson for those of us on the side of right, for manufacturers who are creating, not destroying jobs: Elections matter, legislation matters and in the end, we can make a difference. Look no further than Madison County’s shrinking class action docket.