Travis Akin Nov. 5, 2013, 6:31am

St. Louis has always been a magnet for tourists from across the Midwest who travel to the city to tour the Anheuser-Busch, see the soaring Arch, visit our world-renowned zoo and experience the wonders of the City Museum. All of these tourists help to create jobs for St. Louisans and keep the local economy humming along.

Across the river, the Metro-East attracts another kind of tourist – the litigation tourist. Unfortunately, these kinds of tourists only create lawsuits, which leads to fewer jobs for local residents.

Personal injury lawyers from across the country flock to the notoriously plaintiff-friendly Madison and St. Clair County courts to file lawsuits on behalf of out-of-state plaintiffs, many of whom have no connection to the Metro-East.

Specifically, Madison County continues to solidify its status as America's asbestos docket. Despite having only .0008 percent of the U.S. population, Madison County now accounts for one in four asbestos lawsuits filed in the U.S. Last year a new record of 1,563 new asbestos cases were filed there and this year is on track to break that record.

Only one in 10 of the lawsuits filed in Madison County is filed by a plaintiff who ever worked or lived in the county. Plaintiffs come from as far as Texas and Virginia to file cases in this personal injury lawyer’s paradise, where defendants are routinely denied rights they receive in almost every other court in the country.

Fortunately, a new judge is taking over as the presiding judge of the Madison County asbestos docket. Stephen Stobbs is the fourth judge in three years to preside over this infamous asbestos docket.

Associate Judge Clarence Harrison handled the docket during the last two years after taking over for Circuit Judge Barbara Crowder, who was reassigned when it was learned that she had accepted $30,000 in campaign contributions from three local law firms just days after she granted those same firms 82 percent of the trial slots for 2013.

Now the torch has been handed to Judge Stobbs, who has a chance to put a stop to the abuse and misuse of the Madison County courthouse. Setting common sense standards that require lawsuits to have a real connection to Madison County would be a good first step. Sanctioning personal injury lawyers who look to cash in on Madison County’s plaintiff-friendly reputation by filing lawsuits for out-of-state plaintiffs who have no relationship with Madison County would be another good step.

Implementing these simple, common sense reforms should not only help Madison County shed its job-killing reputation as a haven for lawsuit abuse but should also help unclog our courts and reduce the time it takes for local residents with legitimate claims to be made whole.

Good judges truly matter. 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 the third-worst “Judicial Hellhole” in the country.

All eyes will now be on Judge Stobbs to see if he will help the Metro-east create jobs, not lawsuits.


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