Critics question independence of judicial watchdogs

Belleville News-Democrat
Sunday, September 8, 2002

Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch claims to be a grassroots group of citizens fed up with frivolous lawsuits in metro-east courts.

Or is the group really a wolf in sheep's clothing -- a well-orchestrated front for big corporations trying to take away the rights of consumers?

I-LAW, a metro-east judicial watchdog group, appears on the surface to be a meagerly funded operation, composed of local people intent on fixing what they consider to be a serious problem in metro-east courthouses.

But a report issued by Public Citizen and the Center for Justice and Democracy suggests that organizations such as I-Law are sprouting across the country as part of a corporate-backed network of front groups that get financial and strategic assistance from the tobacco industry and large corporations.

The report suggests that such groups -- which commonly go by such names as Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, Lawsuit Abuse Watch or Stop Lawsuit Abuse -- typically ``masquerade as grassroots citizen groups spontaneously manifesting citizen anger against so-called lawsuit abuse.'' The report is based partly on documents revealed in tobacco lawsuits, according to Public Citizen.

Such groups, according to the report, aim to "incite public scorn" for the civil justice system and ``pave the way for enactment of laws immunizing corporations from liability for actions that harm consumers.''

For a copy of the complete article, contact CJ&D. .

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