Madison County Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder says she will return recent donations made to her retention campaign after the apparent appearance of a conflict of interest. Crowder, who just this week was removed as the judge hearing asbestos cases in the county, will return contributions made by attorneys who work for so-called asbestos law firms.

A decision was made this week by Chief Circuit Judge Ann Callis, and the other circuit judges, to reassign all asbestos cases in the county to Judge Clarence Harrison after Callis says a situation was brought to her attention. Callis said in a statement that the change was made to "maintain the public trust in a fair and unbiased judiciary." She did not address the specific reports that $30,000 in donations were made to Friends of Barbara Crowder by individual attorneys working for Simmons Law Firm, Gori, Julian and Associates, and Goldenberg, Heller, Antognoli and Rowland. The Illinois State Board of Elections provides updated campaign donation information. Crowder's husband, attorney Lawrence Taliana is stepping down as chair of the retention committee, according to a statement released yesterday by Crowder who said any fund raising was not connected to any of her work on the bench. She said she is returning the donations because the timing of them coupled with the change in judicial cases might cause the public to speculate that something inappropriate occurred.