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ATRA Names U.S.’s 13 ‘Judicial Hellholes’

November 10, 2003

The American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) released a report, “Bringing Justice to Judicial Hellholes 2003,” identifying 13 jurisdictions where it believes the law is consistently applied unfairly.

ATRA said such unfair application of the law results in lawsuit abuse and limits on access to affordable healthcare, and is 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,” stated ATRA President Sherman Joyce in a bulletin announcing the report’s publication. He pointed out that even some personal injury lawyers agree with the problems in these jurisdictions.

Some examples of abuse documented in ATRA’s report include:
1.) Madison County, Ill., saw a 2,050 percent increase in class action lawsuits from 1998-2001. ATRA identified it as the worst “Judicial Hellhole” of 2003, and asserted that county judges there receive three-quarters of their contributions from personal injury lawyers.
2.) Mississippi’s 22nd Judicial District is reportedly being investigated by the FBI concerning allegations revealed on the television program, “60 Minutes,” that some jurors may have received payment for their verdicts. According to ATRA, the jurisdiction is infamous for certifying mass actions and handing down irrational jury verdicts.
3.) In Orleans Parish, La., 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, according to ATRA.

The group identified 13 trial courts, and three “dishonorable mention” jurisdictions that it deems 2003’s “Judicial Hellholes.” They are: Madison County, Ill.; Jefferson County, Texas; Mississippi’s 22nd Judicial Circuit (Copiah, Claiborne and Jefferson Counties); Hidalgo County, Texas; Orleans Parish, La.; Kanawha County, W. Va.; Nueces County, Texas; Los Angeles County, Calif.; Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, Penn.; Miami-Dade County, Fla.; the City of St. Louis, Mo.; and Holmes and Hinds Counties, Miss. The “dishonorable mentions” are: Hampton County, S. C.; the Northern Panhandle of the State of West Virginia; and appellate level courts in New Mexico.

ATRA noted that because personal injury lawyers forum shop cases across the U.S. to “Judicial Hellholes,” these courts harm every American. The group believes that focusing public attention on lawsuit abuse often curbs the egregious conduct of judges and personal injury lawyers.

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 wayward jurisdictions.

ATRA said it 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 Web site at http://www.atra.org.

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