SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (Legal Newsline)-Thomas Fitzgerald will serve as the next chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, but will have little effect on the state's so-called judicial hellholes, a leading tort reformer told Legal Newsline.
Fitzgerald, a Chicago Democrat, will serve as the chief courts officer for a state that is ranked as having one of the worst legal climates in the nation, according to studies by the Pacific Research Institute and the American Tort Reform Association, among others.
Despite Fitzgerald being a "fine justice" and having a "distinguished record," he will have little impact on the state's overall legal landscape, said Ed Murnane, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League.
Fitzgerald, as the chief justice, will not shift the high court ideologically, Murnane said in an interview.
"It's not changing the balance of the court," he said of Fitzgerald's leadership.
"It's the same seven justices who are sitting there today will be sitting there in September when Justice Fitzgerald becomes the chief. They will just switch seats, and he will be in the center chair."
The state's poor legal environment is not because of the Supreme Court justices, Murnane added.
"It's not that we have a bad Supreme Court in Illinois; we think our court is relatively balanced," he told Legal Newsline. "The problem in Illinois has been the control by the plaintiffs' bar of the civil division in some of the major counties, most notably Cook County, which has been a trial lawyer's paradise."
The Illinois Civil Justice League endorsed Fitzgerald in the 2000 Democratic primary and backed him in the general election, when he ran unopposed.
As chief justice, Fitzgerald will oversee the state's high court and set its schedule. Currently on the high court are four Democrats and three Republicans. Most of the justices hail from Cook County, which includes Chicago.
He will replace current Chief Justice Bob Thomas, a Republican, who completes his three-year leadership term in September.
Fitzgerald was part of a Supreme Court committee on capital punishment cases before being elected to the high court in 2000.
From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.