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Today, I'd like to talk about inquiries sent to me by advocacy groups.
Since I became a judicial candidate, information requests come left and right from various organizations. Almost all of these inquiries are designed to pigeon-hole me into a "you're either for us or against us" position.
I haven't responded to most of these requests. Not because I don't have opinions on the issues they raise (I am well-known to have an opinion on everything), but rather because my individual opinions are not particularly relevant to the main question people need to ask: Is Chad Beckett qualified to be a Circuit Judge?
Here's an example. One organization recently asked me: "Do you believe that our judicial system adequately deters and penalizes frivolous litigation? If not, what reforms would you like to see?"
The question was sent to me by an organization claiming to support businesses by pressing for "tort reform" in Illinois. I can only guess that this group would like to stamp its approval or disapproval on me based on my opinion as to whether "our judicial system" can function without some unspecified "reform."
I resist requests like this out of concern that my responses will be edited by people and groups looking to push a particular agenda, rather than address my potential merits (or even my relevant detractions) to be a judge. For me, the best place to talk about such matters is an open forum (like this page) where people can read exactly what I have to say on a subject.
With that understanding, I'm happy to offer my opinions on legal issues. To start the ball rolling, here is my opinion on "Tort Reform" and particularly how or whether that issue has anything to do with me being a Circuit Judge.
First, a few definitions. A "tort" in this context is an injury perpetrated by one person or entity against another. The simple example is the guy who takes a swing at someone else in a bar, or the lady who drives her car into the back end of yours at a stop light. These torts are dealt with in civil courts when the victim (plaintiff) files a complaint against the perpetrator of the injury (defendant), seeking compensation for the wrong that has allegedly been committed.
A "frivolous" complaint is one that, despite reasonable inquiry, is NOT well grounded in fact, warranted by existing law or a good-faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law, or is interposed for an improper purpose, such as to harass or to cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation. Such a complaint, if made, is subject to sanction under existing rules promulgated by the Illinois Supreme Court - Rule 137 in fact. Potential sanctions for a frivolous complaint include dismissal of the case, an award of attorney’s fees to the party forced to answer the complaint, or even discipline against the attorney responsible for filing it.
I won't get into defining "tort reform" based on the limited information this organization has given me, other than to state the obvious: Some among us think it is too easy to bring injury law suits. Beyond that, it may be helpful to understand how tort litigation gets started in the first place.
To begin a tort suit, the Plaintiff files a complaint under a recognized theory of recovery (something like "negligence" or "conversion" or "trespass") and includes facts which fit into that theory. 999 times out of 1000, this complaint will have been filed on behalf of the plaintiff by an attorney, i.e., someone who has graduated from law school and has been trained by one or more attorneys in practice on the legal and factual requirements for establishing a "tort" in an Illinois court. While these complaints might go through a few revisions, they almost never result in a judge applying the above definition of "frivolous" to them.
Some of these theories are, indeed, based on very old concepts, dating back 700 years or more to the common law of England. All these theories, however, are continuously "reformed" each time an appellate court reviews a tort case or whenever the legislature modifies a law regarding a particular tort. Both the courts and the legislature are influenced by popular trends and both strive to try to make the system better/fairer over time.
For example, medical malpractice complaints used to be as easy to file as fender-bender cases. That is no longer the case. Twenty years ago, the legislature passed a law (735 ILCS 5/2-622) requiring a medical doctor to certify that he or she has reviewed the complaint and believes it has merit before it will be considered by the Court. This change has revolutionized the way such cases are brought, and, arguably, has reduced the number of frivolous complaints made against doctors. This, in turn, has reduced medical malpractice insurance premiums that doctors and hospitals have to pay, thus reducing the over-all cost of medical care in Illinois.
I believe that changes like this to tort pleading requirements are beneficial to the public. I also believe that these changes are most likely to succeed when they are the product of a broad review process, involving not only the lawmaker who authored the change, but also other stakeholders like committees from the Illinois State Bar, other legal organizations and, yes, even business organizations who encourage "tort reform." I currently sit on two ISBA committees that review changes like this. In short, there is room for everyone to help make the tort process work better within "our judicial system."
All that is just great. But none of it has anything to do with whether I am qualified to be a judge. Supreme Court Rule 137 and its provisions for frivolous pleadings was created and maintained by the Illinois Supreme Court. The law that requires medical malpractice cases to be certified by a medical doctor was passed by the legislature. I am not running for Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court or for a seat in the General Assembly. If elected, my job will be to *follow* the rules of the Supreme Court and *interpret* the laws passed by the General Assembly.
To answer the question directly, I do think that "our judicial system" addresses frivolous litigation appropriately. The standard for a "frivolous" complaint described above is a bright line that judges can and do apply to bad pleadings. If there are changes to be made to the theories of recovery for tort litigation or the damages that can be collected from them, the people to contact about that all work in Springfield. My goal is to preside over cases here in the Sixth Circuit. If elected, I will follow the rules and the law, weeding out complaints that do not satisfy the requirements of established practice and, when necessary, sanctioning parties and attorneys who file frivolous pleadings.
Feel free to send me any questions you may have about my candidacy and my qualifications. I will give each of you an answer. That said, don't be surprised if I give you an answer similar to this one.
There's only so much one person can do about "our judicial system," but I promise that I will always do my best.
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