November 6, 2003
ATRA Cites 13 'Judicial Hellholes' in New 2003 Report Identifies Courts Where 'Equal Justice Under Law' is Elusive
PR Newswire Association, Inc.
WASHINGTON, Nov. 6 /PRNewswire/ -- The American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) today released Bringing Justice to Judicial Hellholes(TM) 2003, a report that identifies 13 jurisdictions where the law is consistently applied unfairly. The result, says ATRA, is lawsuit abuse that costs consumers, compromises access to affordable healthcare, and acts as a drag on the economy.
"Personal injury lawyers bring cases to Judicial Hellholes because they know these courts will produce a large verdict or settlement, a favorable precedent, or both," said ATRA President Sherman Joyce. "As a result," Joyce added, "this handful of jurisdictions has a tremendous negative impact on our civil justice system."
Joyce pointed out that even personal injury lawyers agree with the problems in Judicial Hellholes. Said Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, a trial lawyer who won $1.4 billion in legal fees from tobacco settlements: "... it's almost impossible to get a fair trial if you're a defendant in some of these places."
Some of the most egregious examples of abuse documented in ATRA's report include:
In Madison County, Illinois, identified by ATRA as the worst Judicial Hellhole of 2003, county judges receive three-quarters of their contributions from personal injury lawyers. Not surprisingly, Madison County saw a 2,050% increase in class action lawsuits from 1998-2001.
Mississippi's 22nd Judicial District is the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation concerning allegations revealed on 60 Minutes that some jurors may have received payment for their verdicts. The jurisdiction is infamous for certifying mass actions and handing down irrational jury verdicts.
In Orleans Parish, Louisiana, one judge celebrated with jurors after a large verdict and invited jurors to have their pictures taken with him and plaintiff's counsel Johnnie Cochran.
Through a survey of its members and follow-up research, ATRA has identified 13 trial courts, and three "dishonorable mention" jurisdictions that it deems 2003's Judicial Hellholes. The Hellholes are: Madison County, Illinois; Jefferson County, Texas; Mississippi's 22nd Judicial Circuit (Copiah, Claiborne and Jefferson Counties); Hidalgo County, Texas; Orleans Parish, Louisiana; Kanawha County, West Virginia; Nueces County, Texas; Los Angeles County, California; Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, Pennsylvania; Miami- Dade County, Florida; the City of St. Louis, Missouri; and Holmes and Hinds Counties, Mississippi. The "dishonorable mentions" are: Hampton County, South Carolina; the Northern Panhandle of the State of West Virginia; and appellate level courts in New Mexico.
Because personal injury lawyers forum shop cases across America to Judicial Hellholes, these courts harm every American. The cost of the civil justice system is at an all-time high: more than $2,800 for a family of four. A crisis in medical liability threatens access to health care for many Americans. Specious asbestos litigation has bankrupted more than 70 companies and depressed the market value of countless others. Class action lawsuit abuse showers class members with near-worthless coupons, while class action lawyers "earn" millions in fees from coercive settlements.
The goal of ATRA's Judicial Hellholes report is to document and report on the lawsuit abuse that occurs in Judicial Hellholes. ATRA believes that focusing public attention on lawsuit abuse often curbs the egregious conduct of judges and personal injury lawyers.
"If the Supreme Court of the United States behaved like some of the courts we've identified, it would be front page news," said Joyce. "But because much of this extralegal conduct occurs in rural or out-of-the-way local trial courts, it is a challenge to document. From now on, though, ATRA will be watching and shining a spotlight on the most abusive practices."
This year, ATRA's Judicial Hellholes report includes a new section entitled "Points of Light" that recognizes judges whose decisions have addressed critical problems in the administration of justice, and those state policymakers who have intervened to pass laws that curb lawsuit abuse in Judicial Hellholes.
ATRA continues to push for civil justice legislation, including state and federal class action reform; venue reform; stronger expert witness standards; asbestos litigation reform; and medical liability reform in order to shut down the Judicial Hellholes.
Bringing Justice to Judicial Hellholes 2003 is available on ATRA's website at http://www.atra.org/.
The American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) is the only national organization dedicated exclusively to tort and liability reform through public education and the enactment of legislation. ATRA's membership includes nonprofits, small and large companies, as well as state and national trade, business, and professional associations. http://www.atra.org/
Web site: http://www.atra.org/
Gretchen Schaefer of the American Tort Reform Association
+1-202-682-1163, ext. 15
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