Harris Poll ranks Illinois 46 out of 50; Madison County improved

Ann Knef Apr. 23, 2008, 2:48am



Madison County's judicial system has improved, according to a national survey of corporate lawyers, but Illinois remains among the worst legal climates in the nation.

A report released Wednesday, "Lawsuit Climate 2008: Ranking the States," found that Chicago/Cook County was ranked the second worst legal climate for business among cities or counties, behind Los Angeles.

Madison County ranked fifth in the category, "Cities or Counties with Least Fair and Reasonable Litigation Environment."

"Recent positive rulings by the Illinois Supreme Court and improvements in Madison County courts have been more than cancelled out by growing lawsuit abuse problems in Cook County courts and by a full-scale trial lawyer assault in the state legislature," said Tom Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The seventh annual study was conducted by Harris Interactive Inc. and released by the Chamber's Washington-based Institute for Legal Reform. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce owns the Record.

Illinois Civil Justice League President Ed Murnane said he is not surprised that Illinois continues to be near the bottom -- 46th out of 50 -- in the survey.

"While there has been considerable improvement in the legal environment in Madison County, Cook County continues to have major problems and the size of Cook County relative to the rest of Illinois is going to continue to pull the entire state down," Murnane said.

"We think we are making some inroads in Cook County, particularly in opening up dialogue with judges, but there is a long way to go."

Madison County Circuit Court Judge Ann Callis, who became chief judge of the 3rd Circuit nearly two years ago, has been credited for implementing reforms that have been lauded by critics. Those measures include limitations on "judge shopping" and "forum shopping." Callis also ushered in a mandatory arbitration program.

Travis Akin, executive director for Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch, said the survey shows that lawsuit abuse costs jobs.

"This dubious distinction continues to cost Illinois jobs and opportunities. We are continuing the illogical practice of importing lawsuits and exporting jobs," Akin said. "It is time for Illinois to move forward and reform the state's unbalanced court system."

According to Harris Poll survey of 957 corporate attorneys, Delaware has the nation's best legal climate, while courts in West Virginia ranked at the bottom.

The study found that Nebraska, Maine, Indiana and Utah were also in the top-five states with favorable legal climates, attorneys said.

In these states, lawyers cited, among other things, the courts' quality of judges, the predictability of judges and damage awards as reasons for their favorable ratings.

States at the bottom of the rankings along with Illinois were Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Attorneys in these states cited such things as corruption, unfair judges and high awards as reasons for their dissatisfaction with the local judiciary.

Overall, 41 percent of the poll's respondents said they had a favorable view of state courts overall, while 55 percent rated their home state's courts as either fair or poor.

The overwhelming majority of respondents, 64 percent, said a state's legal climate is an important consideration in deciding whether to locate, expand or do business there.

"We've been telling state policymakers for seven years now that they need to improve their state's lawsuit system in order to attract new business and grow jobs," Donohue said in a statement.

"But some states are learning that changing the law isn't enough -- they also need to make sure their courts correctly apply the law."

The American Association for Justice, a trial lawyers' group, decried the study as corporate propaganda.

"The 'study' is based on a survey of corporate defense lawyers from multi-million dollar corporations who are paid to avoid accountability for their misconduct and negligence," the Washington-based organization said in a statement.

Jon Haber, CEO of the group, said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's goal is to "make sure people can't get justice in the courtroom."

Chris Rizo of Legal Newsline contributed to this report.

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