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Cook County judge refutes 'hellhole' report

Monday, December 19, 2005
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
by John Flynn Rooney

A recent report designating the Cook County Circuit Court as the nation's second-worst ''judicial hellhole'' includes ''false and baseless'' claims, a top judge said on Monday.

Circuit Judge William D. Maddux, who heads the court's Law Division, requested statistics from the circuit court clerk's office last week after the American Tort Reform Association issued its report. Maddux said he planned to forward a written response, including the statistics, to the association.

''Cook County has a long and growing reputation as a friendly place for lawsuits'' and for showing hostility to corporate defendants, the report stated. ''[T]here are strong signs that problems are mounting and Cook County is gaining in popularity among plaintiffs' lawyers.''

The report also cited four cases in which it said reviewing courts found that Cook County judges abused their discretion by refusing to transfer cases that lacked a connection to the county.

A spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.-based association defended the report on Monday.

''We're confident that what we published is accurate and we're eager to see [Maddux's] comments,'' said Gretchen C. Schaefer, an ATRA spokeswoman.

Maddux said the association's members ''never investigated their facts.''

Statistics provided by the clerk's office show that from 2000 to Dec. 13, 2739 motions to transfer were filed in the Law Division. Of that number, 1,476 (about 54 percent) were granted, while 1263 (46 percent) were denied.

In 2003, 550 motions to transfer were filed, with 49 percent granted and 51 percent denied.

In August 2003, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that a plaintiff's forum choice is generally given substantial deference, but a plaintiff choosing a foreign venue gets less deference. William Dawdy Jr. v. Union Pacific Railroad Co., et al. 207 Ill.2d 167.

The four cases highlighted in the report were decided after the high court issued its directive in the Dawdy decision, Maddux said.

Figures provided by the clerk's office also demonstrate that in 2004 51 percent of the jury verdicts in the Law Division were for plaintiffs, and 49 percent for defendants. Through Dec. 14, that number stood at 50 percent for both.

In 2000, the numbers showed 66 percent of the verdicts favored the plaintiffs, and 34 percent favored the defendants.

''The charge that we've grown more receptive to plaintiffs and more hostile to corporate defendants is belied by the statistics showing that since 2000 the percentage of verdicts has become more balanced and is now 50 percent,'' Maddux said.

''I'm satisfied with our performance,'' Maddux continued. ''I'm sorry to see so many hard-working judges slandered.''

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