How to Feed a Lawyer (and Other Irreverent Observations from the Legal Underground)

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ATRA does not single out Madison County as a "judicial hellhole." In its report, Bringing Justice to Judicial Hellholes:

This year, 13 areas were most frequently named by ATRA's members as judicial hellholes and supported by ATRA's study: Madison County, Illinois; Jefferson County (Beaumont), 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.
Is your point, Evan, that Madison County should not be "on the list" of judicial hellholes, or that no jursidiction deserves such ignominy?


Thanks for your comments about the lies of tort reform. In my ten years as an insurance defense attorney (I now manage coverage litigation for an insurance company), I defended many frivilous lawsuits, and I usually prevailed, frequently on motion, early in the case. Never did I take a case to trial that was wholly without merit and never did I pay more than a minimal sum to settle a frivilous suit. In my experience, judges know when a case is nonsense and do not hesitate to toss such a case. Are there bottom feeder plaintiffs attorneys? Absolutely. But the quality plaintiffs attorneys -- the guys who win the big verdicts -- don't take nonsense cases because they don't have the time to waste and the money to waste on a case that has a slim chance of paying off. The goal of tort reform is not to discourage the filing of meritless suits, it is to discourage the filing of suits that do have substantial merit and/or to limit the available recovery. And this opinion comes from a guy who is comfortable and proud to be on the defense side of the equation.


Nic and Warren:

Thanks for your comments. As for your questions, Nic, the point I was making in today's post was that it seems to me that the newspapers around here shouldn't be using the term "judicial hellhole" without giving some context about what organization invented that term, and why. The term is now used like it actually means something. I don't think it does. As I've said on this blawg before, the term "judicial hellhole" is demeaning to hard-working and intelligent state court judges; is demeaning to lawyers; is a slur rather than a description; and has the effect of undermining the public's confidence in the legal system. If the newspapers want to report once about ATRA's list, that's fine, but I don't think they should adopt ATRA's terminology.

To answer your specific questions, I'm opposed to both the list and to the fact that Madison County is on it.


Evan, you would be much more persuasive if you weren't relying on a transparently bogus statistic of "number of malpractice verdicts."

Your cited ATLA source is even more laughable when he says "the reason malpractice premiums are high in this area is because this is the most heavily populated area in the Southern part of the state and has more hospitals and doctors than nearly any city south of Chicago."

If Madison County isn't a magnet jurisdiction meriting the "judicial hellhole" name, why do plaintiffs' lawyers scramble to bring hundreds of class actions and thousands of asbestos cases there? Are all these millionaire lawyers mistaken?

Warren, your experience is quite different than mine. I've seen millions of dollars paid out in frivolous cases on purely fictional theories of liability. And, in certain jurisdictions, there's a big difference between a non-meritorious case and a case that "has a slim chance of paying off." Witness the Philip Morris "light cigarette" class action in Madison County--even if Philip Morris eventually wins on appeal, they'll be out hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs.


Ted: I don't hope to persuade you, but I'm unclear about what you mean by a "transparently bogus statistic of 'number of malpractice verdicts.'" I couldn't find a better article to link to, but the numbers the attorney quoted in the article came from a report by the Madison County Court Clerk. The numbers are indisputable. Despite the mumbo jumbo in the newspapers, there are simply not many malpractive verdicts in Madison County, and the talk about the juries "handing out generous damage awards for pain and suffering to victims of medical malpractice" is just plain wrong. Another article about the small number of verdicts, which quotes the chief judge, is here.

You speak of the "hundreds of class actions and thousands of asbestos cases" in Madison County. Maybe so, but there are far fewer class actions in Madison County than in many other jurisdictions around the country--pick any city in any large metropolitan area. Another problem with your statement: although it's true that many class actions have been filed, the number of cases certified each year is very few, as follows: 1999, 12; 2000, 14; 2001, 2; 2002, 1.

As for asbestos: all of the asbestos cases filed in Illinois have ties to Illinois, since the rules on forum non conveniens here in Illinois are much more strict than in many other states. Moreover, Madison County has the distinction of being the jurisdiction where model rules for asbestos cases, now used around the country, were first developed by the lawyers and judges.

Here in Madison County, we hear a lot of tort-reform-minded people referring to our community as a "small, rural county." Actually, the population is 260,000; by comparison, the population of the City of St. Louis is 339,000. The entire metropolitan St. Louis population, of which Madison County is a part, is 2.5 million.

Why "judicial hellhole"? In the 1999-2002 period, 55 of 166 verdicts in Madison County resulted in $0 to the plaintiff; only 11 of 166 verdicts were in excess of $1,000,000. The median verdict was $28,649. I don't think this could be far out of line with anywhere else in the country.

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