Why Philadelphia Is The Worst Judicial Hellhole In The United States

The American Tort Reform Association’s Annual Report on “Judicial Hellholes” is out again.

Whoops, I mixed up my link — that’s a link to reasonable commentary by the Center for Justice & Democracy. The actual misleading, faux-scientific report is here. My take is similar to The Pop Tort’s ode to the judicial hellholes list:

Your courageous “Judicial Hellholes” report at long last draws attention to the many injustices corporations have to face day in and day out.  You have finally given a voice to the “mom and pop” tobacco companies, gasoline conglomerates, and insurance providers.

Philadelphia apparently takes #1 on the list primarily because it is one of the few major urban court systems without a substantial backlog in the disposition of cases, which the ATRA characterizes as “plac[ing] expediency over fairness.”

Justice delayed is justice denied, and if the ATRA stands for anything, it’s denying justice. That’s why the ATRA is so mad at Judge Sandra Mazer Moss and President Judge Pamela Pryor Dembe, mad enough to mention them by name: they keep the people’s courts moving forward in a timely, efficient manner.

According to the ATRA, conducting court in a just, speedy and efficient manner is not only wrong, but so wrong that it makes you the worst court system in the country. Better to let cases fester for years so that the plaintiffs’ continuing damages, and the costs and time of the plaintiffs’ lawyers on the case, make it impossible to continue, forcing them to take a smaller settlement.

It’s not worth addressing each of the remaining scattershot complaints. Here’s a sample: the ATRA claims “Verdicts over $1 million are up. The Pennsylvania courts report that the number of jury verdicts and judicial rulings of more than $1 million tripled in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas in the first half of 2010 compared to the same period in 2009.”

Read the link provided by the ATRA.

I dare you. Double-dog dare you.

It is indeed a report from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and it begins:

Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald D. Castille today announced the release of state court system data on medical malpractice case filings and verdicts for 2009 that show a further decline in the number of lawsuits filed against health care providers statewide for a fifth consecutive year.

In addition to reporting a continuing decline in case filings and verdicts, it has nothing to do with 2010. It is limited to medical malpractice cases. It says that, in Philadelphia, in 2009, there were 33 jury verdicts for the defense, 3 verdicts for $500,000 or less, no verdicts between $500,000 and $1 million, and six verdicts between $1 million and $5 million.

For reference, most physicians in Pennsylvania have over $1 million insurance coverage, most of it subsidized by the state through the MCARE Fund. Thus, for all of 2009, there were six medical malpractice verdicts in Philadelphia that even approached insurance policy limits (and, as I mentioned before, even a verdict well in excess of insurance rarely means the plaintiff recovers more than the available insurance). If any of those cases also involved a hospital, then the verdict was nowhere near insurance policy limits.

Some hellhole.

But that’s enough fun for now; there’s a much more sinister side of this propaganda that can’t go without note.

Consider how the ATRA answers its own rhetorical question: What makes a jurisdiction a judicial hellhole?

While most judges honor their commitment to be unbiased arbiters in the pursuit of truth and justice, Judicial Hellholes judges do not. Instead, these few jurists may favor local plaintiffs’ lawyers and their clients over defendant corporations. Some, in remarkable moments of candor, have admitted their biases. More often, judges may, with the best of intentions, make rulings for the sake of expediency or efficiency that have the effect of depriving a party of its right to a proper defense.

What Judicial Hellholes have in common is that they systematically fail to adhere to core judicial tenets or principles of the law. They have strayed from the mission of providing legitimate victims a forum in which to seek just compensation from those whose wrongful acts caused their injuries.

That is, Philadelphia judges are “biased” to the point of “systematically fail[ing] to adhere to core judicial tenets or principles of the law.”

Why attack the judges personally, without any actual evidence of corruption or bias? Why not just criticize Philadelphia’s policies?

Because the ATRA doesn’t want to debate the merits. They don’t care about the law. They want to undermine public confidence in the judicial system — particularly the judges who run it — so that you citizens, voters, and jurors will think the whole system is unfair, and will bring those misunderstandings with you into the ballot box and the jury deliberation room.

Which is just what insurance companies and big businesses paid the ATRA to do.

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  • Avenger

    I don’t doubt that ATRA has a lot of business support, as opposed to the so-called Center for Justice & Democracy which draws much of its support from individual trial lawyers and individuals employed by such firms. Both organizations also receive some support from individuals who see the organizations as being in tune with their personal principles.
    Neither ATRA nor CJ&D is particularly objective and both need to be taken with a large grain of salt. CJ&D has released a lot of reports that are little more than trial bar propaganda. Anyone who believes that the tort system is perfect “as is” is a fool or a tool. There are plenty of changes that need to be made favoring plaintiffs and defendants alike
    In fact the only truly objective legal organization of which I am aware is H.A.L.T. which sponsors legal reform as opposed to tort reform

  • Jan

    How useful can ATRA be in reforming justice? It looks now (in the Madison County case) that you have to pay to get your judge on that list. If true what is the value of that list? What is the value of any contents publicized by the organizations that printed that what Syngenta payed for as their own opinion, as the result of their own research?
    The parties and the judge have means to defend themselves. But suppose that I want to stop some legislation, can I just buy some “scientific evidence” being published to make people skeptic of the proposed measures? Without my name being seen? If that works, what is still the value of our system of public opinion? How can the state react if it need to do so with measures that would be disadvantageous for some, if, with enough money they can be easily stopped?