Last December, Madison County once again was put back on the list of the nation’s worst “Judicial Hellholes.” The growing number of asbestos cases being filed in Madison County was one of the main reasons Madison County was put on the list after a four-year absence.
Madison County’s trial “reservation” system that allows various law firms to reserve trial slots even before an actual case has been filed is a major factor in why the number of asbestos cases continues to grow. Just last year, there were 953 asbestos cases filed in Madison County, and nearly 25 percent of the asbestos litigation filed in the entire country is filed in Madison County. A recent study found that only about 1 in 10 of Madison County’s asbestos cases have any connection to the area, with most plaintiffs living in other states. As importantly, roughly 65 percent of the asbestos cases first set for trial in 2012 did not exist when its trial slot was created.
But the landscape in Madison County is about to look different now that Judge Clarence Harrison has issued a ruling ending the trial “reservation” system. Judge Harrison took over the asbestos docket after Judge Barbara Crowder created a national stir when she awarded 82 percent of the 2013 asbestos docket trial slots to three law firms that four days later donated more than $30,000 to her campaign.
It’s bad enough that Judge Crowder’s actions to give future trial slots to big campaign contributors looked like a clear quid pro quo, but it’s just as bad that she reserved all those 2013 trial slots for cases that haven’t even been filed. This ill-advised practice is now coming to an end.
This is a major breakthrough for reform. For too long, Madison County judges have allowed personal injury lawyers from across the country to clog our courts with cases that have no connection to the Metro-East, delaying justice for local residents who are waiting for their cases to be heard.
Additionally, when Metro-East judges import out-of-state lawsuits, they export jobs from our area. Businesses expand or relocate in places where the legal system is considered fair and balanced, so we should not expect a business to expand or relocate in an area that is nationally known as a destination docket and fifth-worst “judicial hellhole” in the country.
If we want to create new jobs and not new lawsuits, Madison County judges must act to restore common sense to our courts and reform the destination docket. Voters will be watching to see if these judges take actions to stop lawsuit abuse in Madison County courts, and those voters will get the chance to render their own verdicts at the polls this November.