Illinois has once again found its legal climate ranked as one of the worst in the nation.

A survey released today by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) lists Illinois as having the fourth worst litigation environment out of the nation's 50 states.

It also names Cook County as home to the most unfair jurisdiction in the nation with Madison County not far behind at No. 6.

The ILR, which owns The Record, noted that 70 percent of survey respondents said a state's lawsuit environment is something that is likely to come into play when making important business decisions, such as where to locate or expand to.

Pointing to the continuation of the economic downturn, ILR President
Lisa A. Rickard said in a statement that this finding, which marks a 13 percent increase from the institute's 2008 survey results, "makes the consequences of this survey even more significant to the economic growth of Illinois."

This year's ILR survey ranking state liability systems was conducted by Harris Interactive and is the ninth one of its kind since 2002.

These surveys have regularly been discounted by trial lawyers and this year is no different.

Greg Shevlin, president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers' Association, said today that this year's survey "is more of the same."

"It's typical of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce," he said, explaining that he believes the survey has "inherit flaws" that produce "skewed results" so the Chamber can "try to make a point."

One of the survey's main flaws, Shevlin said, is its methodology.

According to the ILR, this year's survey was based on phone and online interviews conducted between March and June of about 1,125 in-house general counsels, senior attorneys and other executives at companies with at least $100 million in annual revenues.

Respondents were asked to give states grades ranging from A to F on the impartiality of local judges, fairness of juries, treatment of class action lawsuits, enforcement of venue requirements, limits on discovery and issues associated with damages, among other topics.

Those grades were combined with other factors to produce the overall state rankings. Illinois received an overall ranking of 46th this year.

When it came to "having and enforcing meaningful venue requirements," the survey listed Illinois 49th out of the 50 states, the lowest ranking the state received in this year's survey. Its highest ranking, 38th in the nation, came in the category of "scientific and technical evidence."

"I don't think most of the CEOs or corporate lawyers would have any idea what happens in individual courtrooms," Shevlin said. "The people they chose to interview are probably on board with the U.S. Chamber ...and probably get their marching orders from them, too."

Shevlin predicted that the survey would produce different results if the ILR "took the time to be fair and interview some of the local judges and attorneys."

He said a recent study from the National Federation of Independent Businesses shows that the cost, frequency and threat of lawsuits came in at No. 65 out of the 75 problems deemed to be of importance for its small business respondents.

Ed Murnane, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League, however, has a different take on the ILR survey.

He said while the results of this year's survey were disappointing, it's "not at all surprising that the legal system in Illinois continues to be ranked so poorly."

"While there are many good -- even outstanding -- judges in Illinois, the process we follow to select judges is atrocious," he said. "Judicial candidates throughout Illinois are scrambling for dollars and votes right now, along with candidates for every other political office."

If Illinois would adopt a system to select its judges separate from the political system, Murnane said "the quality of justice will improve dramatically."

Travis Akin, executive director of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch, also weighed in on the results of the Harris survey.

"How can we hope to improve the 8.9 percent unemployment rate in Illinois if we continue to ignore the lawsuit abuse problem in Illinois?" he said. "The abuse of our courts here in Illinois makes it difficult to create jobs and yet it is a problem that continues to be ignored."

According to the survey, there has been a general increase in the overall average score of state liability systems over the past decade. The survey shows the overall score of the nation's states this year was at nearly 70, compared to about 50 in 2002.

This year's overall ranking moved Illinois down one spot from the ILR's 2010 survey. Illinois was listed as having the 38th worst legal climate in 2004, but has garnered rankings in the 40s ever since then.

The ILR survey shows that Illinois' legal climate ranked lower this year than each of its bordering states, including Iowa at 10th, Indiana at 14th, Wisconsin at 15th and Missouri, which was ranked at 34th among the 50 states for lawsuit climate.

Both Cook and Madison counties have been singled out in previous surveys as being some of the most unfair and unreasonable litigation environments in the nation. They garnered that distinction again this year, along with Los Angeles, San Francisco and Philadelphia.

Rickard, the president of the ILR, said in a statement that "Illinois continues to suffer from the negative reputations of courts in certain counties, like Cook, Madison, McLean and St. Clair, which still invite lawsuit abuse and produce jackpot jury awards."

U.S. Chamber President Tom Donohue echoed Rickard's sentiment in a video posted on the ILR's website.

"Illinois is in many ways is the lawsuit capitol of the world," he said, adding that Madison County is the "asbestos capitol of the world."

Donohue said that eight of 10 people who bring asbestos litigation in Madison County aren't even Illinois residents.

"Why are they going there?" he said. "Because they think they can bring their fraudulent claims to Madison County and get away with it. We are working hard to deal with that."

Forum has been a hot topic of debate over the years between Illinois trial lawyers and defense counsel as out-of-state residents continue to bring their asbestos-related suits to Madison and St. Clair counties.

While attempts for reform in the legislature have proved unsuccessful, there is a chance the Illinois Supreme Court could soon provide some guidance on the issue.

The court is set to hear arguments next week in the St. Clair County case of Walter Fennell v. Illinois Central Railroad Co., which deals with jurisdiction over a lawsuit that a Mississippi man filed in St. Clair County after his home state court dismissed it.

In conjunction with its release of this year's survey, the ILR announced the launch of a national television and online advertising campaign featuring Blitz USA, an Oklahoma-based company driven out of business as the result of lawsuits.

To view the survey and ad campaign, go to www.instituteforlegalreform.com.

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