ATRA releases online version of its annual ‘Judicial Hellholes’ Report, Plaintiff Lawyers cry intimidation
January 13, 2011by
The American Tort Reform Foundation (ATRF) recently released its 2010/2011 Judicial Hellholes report, which annually names what it considers some of the nation’s “most unfair civil court jurisdictions.” The ATRF is a branch of the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA), an umbrella organization exclusively dedicated to reforming the civil justice system with a nationwide network of state-based liability reform coalitions. Since its inception in 2002, the Judicial Hellholes program has documented in published reports various abuses within the civil justice system, focusing primarily on jurisdictions where “courts have been radically out of balance.” This year marks the first time that the report has been released online via its new companion website, located at www.judicialhellholes.org. ATRF said that the new website will serve as its principal platform in the future and allow the organization to update problem jurisdictions in real time. “As both technology and the liability-expanding strategies of the always formidable litigation industry evolve, we believe our Judicial Hellholes program must evolve, too,” said Victor Schwartz, ATRA general counsel. “So, as we begin providing year-round updates and analyses of civil justice developments online, our reporting will remain largely focused on the judicial branch, but we’ll occasionally include legislative and executive branch actions that affect the civil justice system, too.” As expected at the yearly publishing of the ATRF’s report, representatives of the plaintiff’s bar and consumer-advocacy organizations have cried foul, citing the sources of the organization’s funding as well as its new intimidation tactics. “ATRA has been funded by corporate giants such as Philip Morris, Dow Chemical, Exxon, General Electric, Aetna, Geico, State Farm, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Nationwide—a ‘who’s who’ of corporations with the most to gain by shutting the courthouse doors on consumers,” wrote the American Association for Justice, the nation’s largest trial bar, in a press release discharged the same day as the Judicial Hellholes report. “Legal Times has also reported that, ‘most of ATRA’s funding comes from large corporate donors. Insurance firms … are each good for $50,000 or $75,000, one unnamed lobbyist familiar with the Association told the publication.’ “The group is now apparently also going ‘online’ with continuous updates, hoping that judges will now have to continuously look over their shoulder wondering what ATRA and its members think of them,” added Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice & Democracy, a national consumer-rights organization exclusively dedicated to protecting the American civil justice system. “[ATRF’s] members include America’s worst industries (oil, chemical, insurance and pharmaceutical) that have a direct financial stake in restricting lawsuits. What ATRA really seems to hate is our system of government where judges and juries cannot be wined, dined and bought-off by corporate lobbyists like them. So they try instead to issue reports like this, throwing jurisdictions in and out for their own political reasons, and attacking judges and juries who are doing their jobs on behalf of everyday hard-working Americans.” ATRA president Tiger Joyce promised that his organization will continue to rank Judicial Hellholes and dismisses the notion that its intention is to intimidate. “We still intend to write summarizing, year-end reports that rank the Judicial Hellholes, note lesser offending jurisdictions and applaud civil justice reforms and other positive news,” he said. “But we’ve simply decided that the Judicial Hellholes program will be a much more valuable tool for the media, policymakers and the public if its content is regularly freshened and made available online throughout the year. “Remember, the Judicial Hellholes report is not all bad news. Our ‘Points of Light’ section celebrates positive civil justice developments. This year’s report, for example, recognizes Florida’s legislature for passage of three significant tort reforms; West Virginia Circuit Court Judge Arthur Recht for safeguarding the integrity of asbestos claims; and Maryland’s highest court for upholding reasonable limits on awards for noneconomic damages.” The 2010/2011 Judicial Hellholes report names civil courts in Philadelphia; California's Los Angeles and Humboldt counties; West Virginia; South Florida; Cook County, Ill.; and Clark County, Nev., as the worst in the nation. Madison County, Ill.; Atlantic City, N.J.; St. Landry Parish, La.; the District of Columbia; New York City and Albany, N.Y.; and St. Clair County, Ill., made the Judicial Hellhole Watch List, while the Michigan Supreme Court, St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Angela T. Quigless and the Colorado Supreme Court received Dishonorable Mentions. The Florida Legislature, West Virginia Judge Arthur Recht and the Maryland Supreme Court were named to the Points of Light list.