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St. Louis County a “Judicial Hellhole?” Give me a break!

Posted by Todd Hendrickson in Q&A

The American Tort Reform Foundation, the business lobby group that annually names Madison and St. Clair counties in Illinois, as “judicial hellholes” is at it again. In it’s annual attempt to scare the wits out of voters and small businesses, and to influence pro-business “tort reform” legislation, the ATRF has gone beyond it’s poorly masked attempt to influence jurors in what it views as “plaintiff friendly” venues. Now it has taken to including on the list venues which it believes are less troublesome than so-called hellholes, but worth mentioning.In this group it places St. Louis County, Missouri. Now, as an attorney practicing as a plaintiff’s attorney in Missouri for nearly 20 years, this would be laughable if the intent were not so calculatedly evil.For those who are not familiar with the political structure in Missouri, the City of St. Louis is not part of St. Louis County. The City of St. Louis operates as its own county. And the City of St. Louis has been known, for many years, as a “plaintiff-friendly” venue, justified or not. And it is true that plaintiff’s attorneys always felt they could get a fair shake in front of a City jury. Now, St. Louis County has always been a different animal. St. Louis County has been known as a “plaintiff-hostile” venue, where cases with strong liability and serious damages go to die. Ask any practicing trial lawyer in Missouri, and St. Louis County will be listed as a conservative venue. That’s not to say that plaintiff’s can’t win in St. Louis County, they can. Just as a strong liability case can be won in almost any venue. It is just that the perception has always been that juries in St. Louis County, like those in other conservative venues, generally seem to hold plaintiff’s to a higher legal standard than the law requires. While a civil case is to be decided on a preponderance of the evidence, it always seemed that conservative juries seemed to apply a reasonable-doubt standard.And that brings us back to the American Tort De-Form Foundation. In recent years there have been a few substantial verdicts rendered in St. Louis County where liability was clear and damages were severe. Such awards were clearly warranted and they haven’t been over-turned on appeal. This “trend” leads the ATRF to label St. Louis County as a near-hellhole. Preposterous!The reason for this designation is clear. The ATRF and its allies are seeking to taint jury pools. And taint them they will. In 2005 I tried a case in St. Clair County, one of the “hellholes.” Well, it isn’t a hellhole because of the jurors. The ATRF and it’s ilk so poisoned the jury pool that, in response to a written questionnaire prepared by the trial judge, 95% of the jury pool stated that “frivolous lawsuits” were driving up malpractice insurance rates and driving doctors out of Illinois. Interestingly enough, once the jurors heard a little bit about the medical malpractice case they were to hear, a vast majority agreed that my client’s suit wasn’t frivolous and that they would listen to the evidence before they made up their minds. The case settled on day 3 of trial.There are no “judicial hellholes,” only thinly veiled attempts by the pro-business lobby to do anything possible to improperly influence jurors, voters and legislatures with ridiculous “studies” which prove only that if you pay enough for it, you can get a “study” to say anything you want, even that one of the most conservative venues in Missouri can be labeled as a “hellhole.”

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