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MADISON COUNTY, IL, TOPS ATRA's 2003 LIST OF JUDICIAL 'HELLHOLES'.

Refining its list of "judicial hellholes" where corporate defendants don't think they can get a fair trial, the American Tort Reform Association released its latest version and for the first time ranked the jurisdictions.

ATRA put Madison County, IL, at the top of the list because of what it described as the undue influence of the personal injury bar on the judiciary and the county's reputation as a magnet for class actions.

"The locally elected judges of the Circuit Court of Madison County receive at least three-quarters of their campaign funding from the lawyers who appear before them to represent plaintiffs in personal injury, class action, or medical malpractice cases," says the report, Bringing Justice To Judicial Hellholes 2003.

"Madison County judges are infamous for their willingness to take cases from across the country, with little or no connection, and offer decisions that regulate entire industries nationwide," such as a class action against State Farm Companies.

The other 13 jurisdictions and brief descriptions of why they were chosen:

2. Jefferson County, TX: Characterized as "a particularly plaintiff-friendly jurisdiction" and "a magnet for asbestos claims."

3. Mississippi's 22nd Judicial Circuit (Copiah, Claiborne and Jefferson Counties: CBS-TV's "60 Minutes" described the circuit as a favorite place for plaintiffs' lawyers to flock - whereupon two jurors sued the producers and the local station for defamation.

4. Hidalgo County, TX: The Texas Insurance Department reports the rate of medical malpractice claims in the Rio Grande Valley is 211 percent above the national average, and many doctors have left.

5. Orleans Parish, LA. "It is a place where judges actually take photo ops with plaintiffs' lawyers and raise campaign donations at funerals, where mold litigation is becoming the new asbestos, and the threat of coming face-to-face with an angry jury and plaintiff-friendly court compels defendants to settle regardless of the merits."

6. The state of West Virginia, but particularly Kanawha County: "Kanawha County turned its judicial system judicial system - with the help of the state's highest court - into a commodity business, akin to an ATM for claim filers."

7. Nueces County, TX: This is "one of the forums in which plaintiffs' lawyers like to forum shop."

8. Los Angeles County, CA - Central Civil West Division: "This jurisdiction is such a money-maker for plaintiffs' lawyers that it is known to them as 'The Bank.'"

9. Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas: A study by Pew Charitable Trusts found that Philadelphia plaintiffs are twice as likely to win jury trials as in the rest of the nation and a substantial percentage of cases result in verdicts greater than $1 million."

10. Miami-Dade County, FL: A jury awarded $33.8 million in punitive damages against Texas Refining and Marketing despite having found no economic damages.

11. City of St. Louis, MO: "The infamous St. Louis City Circuit Court . . . awarded eight of the twenty-one highest plaintiffs' verdicts" among the state's 45 judicial circuits and two federal circuits.

12 & 13. Holmes and Hinds Counties, MS: Some of the mass actions formerly heard in Jefferson County "are beginning to flow" to these counties after Jefferson County Judge Lamar Pickard began to tighten up on permitting joinder.

ATRA said another three jurisdictions get "dishonorable mentions": Hampton County, SC; the northern panhandle of West Virginia; and appellate courts in New Mexico.

The nominations came in a survey of ATRA's corporate and association members and were turned over to the law firm of Shook, Hardy & Bacon, where ATRA General Counsel Victor E. Schwartz is a partner. The 84 nominations were culled down to 16, and the firm scoured public sources such as media reports and other previously published articles, which are footnoted.

ATRA President Sherman Joyce said the process provided members a "comfort level" that they would be insulated from retribution by judges in the jurisdictions they complained about.

Otherwise there could be a "chilling effect," Schwartz said.

"They have had a very bad case or two in a jurisdiction," he said, and "they believe with all their hearts that the judge will come back at them . . . triple time."

"To be part of any enterprise that criticizes judges is one that I approach with great care," Schwartz said.

Joyce said when he and three colleagues appeared at the Madison County, IL, courthouse to present their previous findings, they were served with subpoenas to give depositions in cases they knew nothing about.

Five days before the hearing, Schwartz added, the subpoenas were withdrawn - possibly for fear of sanctions, although he doubted they could be awarded in that jurisdiction.

The report can be downloaded from www.atra.org/reports/hellholes/
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Publication:Liability & Insurance Week
Date:Nov 9, 2003
Words:762
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