Illinois Asbestos Judge Says She'll Give Back Campaign Donations

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Barbara Crowder, a Madison County, Ill., judge recently removed from the court’s sole asbestos docket after plaintiffs lawyers on her call gave $30,000 to the jurist’s re-election campaign, stated yesterday that she plans to return the donations in question.

According to the Belleville News-Democrat, Crowder Dec. 1 signed an order that gave the three law firms the majority of trial slots on the 2013 asbestos docket. A few days later, the newspaper reports, lawyers from those firms—Gori Julian & Associates, Goldenberg Heller Antognoli & Rowland and the Simmons Law Firm—gave campaign contributions to Crowder. The donations per lawyer were between $5,000 and $1,000 apiece.

Crowder released a statement yesterday, the newspaper reports, with her side of the story. Her campaign is managed by her husband, Lawrence Taliana, who is also a lawyer.

“Unfortunately, the timing of some campaign donations and the entry of a scheduling order have led some to speculate that there might be some relation between them,” Crowder said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. However, I do recognize that the unfortunate timing could provoke some to suspect that something inappropriate had occurred. Therefore, to address those concerns, I am returning those donations.”

Madison County repeatedly has been tagged a plaintiff-friendly “judicial hellhole” by various tort reform groups. Ed Murnane, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League, previously told the newspaper that plaintiff firms use the asbestos trial slots to market themselves.

“You can sell the fact to a prospective client that you already have time in a courtroom,” he said.

Mike Angelides is the Simmons Law Firm’s managing partner. In an email he told the News-Democrat that Taliana asked for the contributions, and denied that the Simmons Firm was promised anything in exchange for the money.

“As a national law firm focused on consumer health and safety issues, our firm has a long history of supporting Democrats at the national and local levels, including past campaigns of Judge Crowder and other local judges and elected government representatives,” Angelides wrote.

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