Get your facts straight

Sherman Joyce Sep. 16, 2004, 10:44am

Sherman Joyce has been president of ATRA since 1994.

Personal Injury lawyer Randall Bono tells quite a story in the September 2 Madison County Record.

We call it a story rather than an article, because it truly is a work of fiction. Mr. Bono makes up his own version of the founding of the American Tort Reform Association and conveniently omits critical information for why ATRA has named Madison County the worst “Judicial Hellhole®” in the nation.

Mr. Bono charged that ATRA was founded by companies that many people find unpopular.

Here is the truth: ATRA was co-founded in 1986 by the American Medical Association and the American Consulting Engineers Counsel.

Since that time, ATRA has been working to bring greater fairness, predictability and efficiency to America’s civil justice system. Those efforts have resulted in the enactment of state and federal laws that make the system fairer for everyone.

Further, ATRA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization with affiliated coalitions in more than 40 states. We are the only national organization dedicated exclusively to tort and liability reform through public education and the enactment of legislation.

ATRA’s membership is diverse and includes nonprofits, small and large companies, as well as state and national trade, business, and professional associations. A sample list of our members is available on the ATRA website at

ATRA has published an annual Judicial Hellholes® report for the past two years, not five, as Mr. Bono recalled. The report exposes state trial court jurisdictions where ATRA believes impartial justice is unavailable. The main point of our Judicial Hellholes® program is to encourage debate about litigation in these jurisdictions and to affect change.

Mr. Bono suggests that Madison County’s Judicial Hellhole® “reputation” is “undeserved,” and that our Judicial Hellholes® program is designed to “prejudice juries” and “intimidate judges.”

First, there is nothing in our report critical of or speaking to juries. It focuses on judges in 13 of thousands of jurisdictions in the United States.

Anyone reading our Judicial Hellhole® report would see clearly why some Madison County judges have earned the label Judicial Hellholes® for Madison County. It is not because of their personalities or anything about them personally; their decisions are the problem.

Madison County judges have a long history of taking jurisdiction over cases from across the country that have little or no local connection to their court.

The plaintiffs often do not live and have never lived there, were not injured there and don’t work there. The Illinois Supreme Court has acknowledged this and criticized the jurisdiction for its over-eagerness to take such cases.

The jurisdiction is also known as a class action paradise. Between 1998 and 2001, the number of class action lawsuits filed increased by 2,050 percent. Too often plaintiffs’ lawyers walk away with millions while the plaintiffs get very little money.

Mr. Bono incorrectly states that our interest in Madison County began only a few years ago. The truth is that we have had our eye on this jurisdiction for many years.

In fact, even retired Madison County Judge John DeLaurenti has indicated that it took Madison County four decades to earn its reputation, “but now, it is so big with so much money and potential influence on people’s careers that is has become very difficult to limit it in any way.”

Finally, we point to a fact that should raise eyebrows—that the locally elected judges of Madison County receive at least three-quarters of their campaign funding from the lawyers who appear before them to represent plaintiffs in personal injury, class action, or medical malpractice cases. This is troubling and at a minimum deserves further examination.

We stand by our assessment of Madison County and challenge Mr. Bono or anyone else to refute our Judicial Hellholes® report. We ask only that they do so by using logic and facts.

ATRA's full 'Judicial Hellholes' report is available on its Web site --

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