What makes a place a “judicial hellhole” as that term is used by the American Tort Reform Association? ATRA says “Judicial Hellholes are places where judges systematically apply laws and court procedures in an inequitable manner, generally against defendants in civil lawsuits.”
ATRA’s new list (see http://www.atra.org/reports/hellholes/) of judicial hellholes puts my primary place of practice, Cook County, Illinois, as the #3 judicial hellhole in the U.S. Also on its “watch” list are St. Clair and Madison Counties in downstate Illinois.
To determine if an area is a “judicial hellhole” is clearly subjective and objective standards are likely to be impossible to create. Like the legal efforts to determine what is “obscene,” it might just be one of those things which a person must say “I know it when I see it.” In this instance, however, I’m planted firmly in the middle of one of the places called a judicial hellhole and it’s difficult to understand why it was given this moniker. ATRA says this about Cook County:
Cook County is Illinois’ center of litigation, hosting 65 percent of the state’s lawsuits while serving as home to just 41 percent of its population. This disparity has widened over the past 15 fifteen years. O’Hare is not just busy with tourists, but also with lawyers bringing claims from around the state, across the country, and even from abroad. Lawsuits in hyper-litigious Cook County include claims that a dolphin at a zoo splashed spectators, that fire engine sirens are too loud, and that a camp is responsible for the deaths of teenagers who took a late night joy ride in its boats.
OK, we have a disproportionate amount of lawsuits compared to the State’s population, but we also have a disproportionate amount of business dollars and transactions compared to the rest of the State, and many people from outside of the county travel to Cook County on a daily basis. Lawyers practicing here have long known it is a plaintiff-oriented jurisdiction for the amounts of jurors’ verdicts, but there has been evidence in the past year or so that the number of pro-plaintiff verdicts and the amounts of those verdicts have been decreasing.
I guess I just don’t feel I am practicing in a judicial hellhole; maybe I’ve become accustomed to it and deal with it the best way possible. Nevertheless, I interact with truly excellent lawyers and judges each and every day and it’s tough to say they have created a “hellhole.”
Just one man’s opinion.