Dodging serious questions

By The Madison County Record | Dec 19, 2004

The label 'hellhole' may grab the headlines. But the American Tort Reform Association's (ATRA) “Judicial Hellholes” report is more about substance than name-calling.

We wish we could say as much for our local legal community's response to the survey, in which Metro-East courts won the anti-business gold and silver for 2004.

If you were in a cave, last week Madison County was ranked the worst (#1) and St. Clair County the second worst state courthouse for business in the U.S.

As part of its 56-page report, ATRA makes a detailed, footnoted case for why it believes the "scales of justice are radically out of balance" in Madison and St. Clair Counties.

"Madison County judges allow claims to proceed in Madison County courts where the plaintiff and defendant are located out of state, the plaintiff's exposure occurred outside the state, no witnesses live in Illinois, and no evidence relates to the state,” the report said.

Asked for a rebuttal by The Record, St. Clair County Chief Judge Jan Fiss called ATRA a "biased little group." Veteran plaintiff's attorney Rex Carr said it was full of "drunks and dopeheads."

It’s a wonder to us how many educated people—in this case, supposedly esteemed lawyers and judges—think that they can answer an argument by suggesting impure motives of those who disagree with them.

Sure, ATRA is biased. But why does that somehow relieve those responsible for the local status quo from addressing the facts and logic they’ve presented?

Judge Fiss, Mr. Carr and the rest of the bunch would have more credibility if they would stop name-calling and, for once, substantially answer the specific charges made against our court system.

ATRA says that the Madison and St. Clair County Courts and their activist judges are bad for business. So are they? Are non-‘hellhole’ courts too pro-business?

The facts show that many, many more class action lawsuits are filed here than in a typical state court. ATRA says this is bad. Is it? Or is this the only place where justice is truly served?

In general, do the critics of Madison and St. Clair County Courts have it all wrong? Is this the way all state courts should be? Are our courts different because we have it right?

Ignoring the crux of ATRA’s argument and instead attacking the messenger is effective short-term spin. But it doesn’t address that ugly perception tainting every Metro-East resident with a law degree.

That is, our lawyers like the system because it makes them rich, and our judges go along because they are scared for their jobs.

That's ATRA's complaint against our court system. We're still waiting for an answer.

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