On the Fifth Terrace

The Madison County Record Dec. 17, 2006, 7:34am

The Metro East is no longer in judicial "hell" but rather cautiously cooling in "purgatory."

So says the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA), which released its annual "Judicial Hellholes" report last week, which pegs "the worst jurisdictions in which to face a lawsuit" in America. The report wouldn't be the same without Madison County as a marquee offender. And the 2006 edition was just that, if also a teeny bit different.

For the third year running, ATRA dubbed both Madison and St. Clair counties as "Top Six" hellholes. But for the first time ever, it reserved a glimmer of hope amidst the venom for the latter, its steadiest poster child since the report's inception six years ago.

Madison County is relenting. Things are getting better-- there's really no denying it. Credit goes to Judge Dan Stack, who set a new tone with his common sense rulings, and more recently to Chief Judge Ann Callis, enforcing once-unthinkable reforms with big ambition.

That explains the escape from hell. For the uninitiated, "purgatory" is where souls of sinners go to suffer while they atone for their bad deeds before going to heaven. That's where Madison County lingers today, doing time for men named Simmons, Bono, Lakin, and Byron.

Not that all those responsible are on board with doing penance. Plaintiff's lawyers like Steve Tillery, currently maneuvering to protect $17 million in legal fees he recently extorted out of drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline, seem committed to splattering Madison County with mud. Teamed with Judge Ralph Mendelsohn, Tillery dragged the North Carolina-based firm into the Hellhole with a nationwide class action over the antidepressant Paxil. It agreed to pay Tillery to get out, only to attract a me-too suit from St. Clair County.

That's in the news today, even still in the new-and-improved ex-number one Hellhole. When you open that jackpot justice honeypot, the paws do come out.

Indeed, heaven can wait for our local courts. But its mere appearance on the horizon is a cause for optimism. Garden of Eden, here we come.

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