Friday, December 14, 2012

Cook County courts on ATRA "Hellhole" watchlist

The American Tort Reform Foundation released its annual list of Judicial Hellholes (you can access and download the entire report from that site).

The top five jurisdictions singled out for opprobrium by the ATRF are
  • California
  • West Virginia
  • Madison County, Illinois
  • New York City and Albany, New York
  • Baltimore, Maryland.
However, Cook County, Illinois is among those jurisdictions placed on ATRF's Judicial Hellhole "Watchlist."

ATRF is affiliated with the American Tort Reform Association. ATRA bills itself as "the only national organization exclusively dedicated to reforming the civil justice system," boasting a "nationwide network of state-based liability reform coalitions backed by 135,000 grassroots supporters [and an] unparalleled track record of legislative success."

ATRF has declared Cook County a "Judicial Hellhole" before but, this year, "Cook County fell from its more typical perch... because the winds of litigation have stayed relatively calm in Chicago." But that does not mean that ATRF or ATRA hold the Cook County Circuit Court in any higher esteem. ATRF says our courts have not "improved in any significant way. In fact, when the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform recently asked lawyers representing major employers which cities or counties had the least fair and reasonable litigation environments, Chicago/Cook County was the most frequently cited."

The Law Division's Pilot Project for simultaneous exchange of retained 213(f)(3) experts in some cases (General Administrative Orders 11-2 and 11-3) was singled out for harsh criticism. According to the Judicial Hellholes report (p. 26), "Defense lawyers point out that under the 'simultaneous disclosure' program, they may need to hire experts they do not even need, since what is in dispute may not be clear. And they fear they could hurt their clients by addressing issues plaintiffs never thought to raise."

ATRF was also critical of the recent retention election. The report focused on a handful of judges, including one who was suspended from judicial service at the time of the retention election (and remains suspended) pending the resolution of criminal charges against her. "The Cook County Circuit Court needs to get its house in order," ATRF writes, also mentioning the case against non-judicial employee accused of shredding court files at her kitchen table. Not mentioned in the ATRF report was the fact that the vast majority of judges on the November retention ballot were unanimously recommended for retention by all the many bar groups considering their credentials.

On what it said was the positive side, ATRF noted that a couple of large jury verdicts were reversed on appeal this year and that the fraud suits against the local law schools were thrown out. With regard to the law school suits, ATRF said (p. 26), "Come on, kids, stop your whining and grow up. If you were smart enough to do well on the LSAT, you should have been smart enough to glance at a newspaper or legal journal occasionally. If you had, you’d know law firms have been downsizing for years."

Members of ATRA include AEGIS Insurance Services, Advance Medical Technology Association, Altria Client Services, ASFE, the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, the American Institute of Architects, the American Insurance Association, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the American Medical Association, American Suzuki Motor Company, American Trucking Associations, Associated Wire Rope Fabricators, Bayer Pharmaceutical Corporation, CNA Financial Corporation, CSX Corporation, Caterpillar, Chrysler Group, Coca-Cola Bottlers’ Association, Cybex International, Doctors' Company, Eli Lilly and Company, Farmers Insurance, Ford Motor Company, Emerson Electric Company, ExxonMobil, General Electric, Great American Insurance Companies, Hyundai Motor America, Johnson & Johnson, Koch Industries, Inc., Medical Mutual, Merck & Company, MetLife, Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, the National Association of Home Builders, the National Federation of Independent Business, the National Fuel Gas Distribution, Nationwide, Pfizer, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Physician Insurers Association of America, PPG Industries, Preferred Physician Medical, Prudential Insurance Company of America, SeamCraft, Inc., Shell Oil Company, State Farm, Taussig Corporation, and Unimin Corporation.

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