WASHINGTON – Illinois citizens - and particularly those living in Cook, Madison and St. Clair counties - need to change their voting habits to reduce the problems that landed them near the top of American Tort Reform Association's most recent "Judicial Hellholes" list, an ATRA spokesman said.
"They can stop electing the same self-interested politicians and judges who are beholden to the plaintiffs’ bar again and again," ATRA Director of Communications Darren McKinney said during a Cook County Record email interview.
The state also needs to work on what McKinney described as an overly plaintiff-friendly venue problem.
"Venue reform to limit forum shopping would be a good start," he said. "Adopting the more exacting Daubert standard for expert testimony, bringing transparency to asbestos bankruptcy trust claims, and reforming evidentiary rules so jurors can be told that a plaintiffs’ claims for 'phantom' damages are just that - bills that were never paid by anyone and therefore require no reimbursement."
Cook, Madison and St. Clair counties collectively ranked No. 6 on the ATRA's annual "Judicial Hellholes" list released Dec. 15.
“Whether it is medical malpractice, product liability or disability access lawsuits, Chicago is the wrong place to defend a case,” ATRA wrote in the report.
The three Illinois counties were ranked behind St. Louis; California; New York’s asbestos litigation courts; South Florida and the Florida Supreme Court; and New Jersey; and ahead of Louisiana; Newport News, Va..; and Hidalgo County, Texas.
Madison County was criticized in the report for its reputation as a so-called asbestos “rocket docket” and for judicial election “end-runs.” The ATRA report also criticized Cook County Circuit Court and the Chicago federal courts as prime spots for litigation of all kinds. Cook County hosts two-thirds of the state’s lawsuit activity despite having only 40 percent of Illinois’ population, the report said.
“Observers consistently tell ATRA that the scales of civil justice have been out of balance there for decades, and no one is holding their breath while waiting for those scales to be leveled,” the ATRA report said.
The three Illinois counties' "Judicial Hellhole" ranking was earned as much by their overall political environment as their courts, McKinney said.
"The corruption of the civil justice system in Cook County, like the corruption of civil courts in Madison and St. Clair counties, is comparable to the broader government corruption that has become endemic in Chicago and Springfield," he said. "One-party rule tends to promote corruption."
When evaluating judicial candidates and trying to be more informed, there are several things Illinois voters, especially in those three counties, can do, McKinney said.
"Judges with backgrounds as plaintiffs’ lawyers are, not surprisingly, likely to favor plaintiffs’ lawyers when presiding over cases," he said. "If voters don’t want biased courts, they should consider this fact."
McKinney further singled out groups of "self-interested personal injury lawyers" who attempt to label "no-nonsense judges" as "not qualified ... because they frown on lawyers’ attempts to defraud the civil justice system."
"Voters should ignore the lawyers and support the no-nonsense judges," McKinney said.