Court reform attracts investors

Steve Korris Mar. 28, 2006, 7:00am

Lt. Gov Peter Kinder

Tom Donohue

ST. LOUIS – Court reforms helped automaker DaimlerChrysler choose to invest more than $1 billion in Missouri, according to Lt. Gov Peter Kinder.

"Missouri gets it," he said at a March 27 press conference in downtown St. Louis.

DaimlerChrysler's decision to improve a factory at Fenton owed partly to court reforms and workers compensation changes that Gov. Matt Blunt signed last year, Kinder said.

"The best jobs never come from a government program," he said. "Our greatness comes from the toil and effort of individuals working to help others."

At the Renaissance Grand Hotel, Kinder celebrated Missouri's jump from 40th to 35th in the fifth annual Harris Interactive Study of state liability systems.

In West Virginia, no one celebrated. For the first time, it ranked 50th in the survey. In each of the first four years it ranked 49th.

Mississippi advanced from last place to 48th, as a result of reform legislation.

Delaware ranked first by a wide margin.

Harris Interactive annually ranks states through a survey of corporation attorneys for the Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

For this year's survey, 1,456 attorneys in companies with annual revenues above $100 million evaluated states in 12 categories.

West Virginia ranked last in meaningful venue requirements, treatment of torts and contracts, treatment of class and mass suits, punitive damages, timeliness of summary judgment and dismissal, discovery, scientific and technical evidence, noneconomic damages, and judges' competence.

It fared slightly better in judges' impartiality, jury fairness and jury predictability.

Along with the state rankings, the press conference focused its spotlight on Madison County, Illinois, two miles away.

One of every eight attorneys in the survey identified Madison County as the least fair or reasonable litigation environment in the nation.

In its reputation for unfairnress Madison County nearly matched Los Angeles and Chicago. One attorney in five picked Los Angeles County, and one in seven picked Cook County.

At the press conference, U. S. Chamber of Commerce president Tom Donohue told a reporter that Madison County "used to be as crooked as a dog's hind leg."

He said the annual survey is a key weapon in the fight for court reform and a benchmark for opinion leaders.

West Virginia fell to last place despite efforts of its governor, he said. He said West Virginia failed to act on the governor's proposals.

He said Missouri is already reaping benefits from reforms that Gov. Matt Blunt signed last year.

Noting that Illinois ranked 45th, he said, "I think that Illinois should take a page from Missouri's book and enact comprehensive legal reform."

He said the Illinois Supreme Court did its part last year with rulings that the business community took as signs of new fairness and balance.

He said the governor signed a medical malpractice bill after saying he would sign one over his dead body.

"Perhaps he began to think about his own health care," Donohue said.

Lt. Gov. Kinder followed Donohue to the podium and said, "Good morning and welcome to the new Missouri."

He said he and Gov. Blunt would remain alert for opportunities to continue improving business conditions in Missouri.

Poll author Humphrey Taylor said polls are not always serious but this one is. He said it clearly influences investment and employment decisions.

He said Harris follows the toughest rules in the polling business.

"We don't do hired gun studies, even for our friends at the Chamber," Taylor said

A reporter asked why Harris Interactive limited the survey to companies above $100 million. Donohue said, "Those are the people that are being sued."

A reporter asked if businesses promote court reform to protect themselves from responsibility for wrongdoing.

Donohue said businesses deserve to be in an appropriate court and they should not have to pay for everybody's liability.

He said people with asbestosis cannot get paid because trial lawyers have put 70 to 80 companies out of business by recruiting masses of plaintiffs.

"We are finding out some of these people are plaintiffs in 30 different cases," he said.

A reporter asked why some states have been slow in passing reform laws. Donohue said class action and mass action lawyers have been politically active.

"We were sleeping at the switch," he said. "We are not going to sit in the back room like dummies any more while somebody is stealing our lunch."

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