Friday, December 22, 2006

About 'Hellholes,' Jobs and the Illinois Economy

by Ed Murnane

The reaction from the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association (and their allies) to last week’s announcement of the 2006 "judicial hellholes" was predictable. In fact, I was called for comment on the "reaction," even before the American Tort Reform Foundation’s report was made public. ITLA and their big brother, the American Association for Justice, didn’t need to see the report before attacking it.

And that is not surprising.

Since THEY are one of the primary reasons three Illinois counties are included in the list of six hellholes, it makes sense that they’d be unhappy to be blamed for the poor quality of justice. (Of course, judges have to assume some responsibility but without the trial lawyers’ and their creativity, the problems would not be of "hellhole" magnitude.

It’s too close to Christmas to get into a fire and brimstone (in keeping with the "hellhole" theme) reaction to ITLA’s reaction.

But here are a few observations.

* According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 3,141 counties in the United States. Do the trial lawyers think ATRA picked these three in Illinois because they don’t like Illinois? (If that’s the case, I’m offended since I’m a life-long resident of Illinois AND I happen to be on the ATRA board of directors (but not involved in the "hellholes" project)).

* Is it simply a coincidence that ATRA’s identification of three Illinois counties as the worst in the country parallels the Harris International Poll conducted for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that states Illinois has one of the most hostile legal environments in the United States? Or perhaps Illinois looks bad from different perspectives because it IS bad?

* Did ITLA and their allies have a similar reaction to another report issued last week that described the "virtually unabated loss of good-paying jobs in manufacturing (in Illinois)?" The report entitled "The State of Working Illinois 2006" said “between July 1990 and July 2005, the total number of manufacturing jobs in Illinois dropped by 24.6 percent. This represented a loss of over 225,800 jobs during the 15-year period, or about 15,000 manufacturing jobs per year. Moreover, just under three-quarters of this decline (162,400 jobs) was in durable goods manufacturing, long the mainstay of the state's economy."

* Does ITLA think excessive lawsuits and a high cost of litigation (see points above) have anything to do with a declining job base?

* The report (by a coalition of groups including the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, the Illinois Department of Employment Security, Northern Illinois University's Regional Development Institute and a number of labor unions and community groups) also said this: "... the percentage decline in the number of manufacturing jobs in Illinois has been higher than both the national and regional average. The loss of those good-paying manufacturing jobs (which pay an average of about $660 weekly) cannot be offset by growth in service sector jobs, which pay about $524 a week. Those lower average weekly wages generally translate to less consumer spending, a less robust economy and a greater demand for government and human services."

* Does ITLA think Madison County Chief Judge Ann Callis is wrong to be enacting procedural reforms in her circuit to improve the judicial environment in Madison County?

* If Illinois is losing about 15,000 manufacturing jobs per year, how many plaintiff attorney jobs are being lost? ITLA claims membership of "over 2,000 members." How many are being lost every year, or has the number of plaintiff’s attorneys been growing?

There were a few bright spots in the ATRA report:

1. Illinois only had three counties (of 102 in the state) on the list. The ENTIRE State of West Virginia ranked at the top.

2. Madison County is acknowledged to be improving. Anyone who pays attention to Illinois knows that’s true and Judge Callis and her colleagues deserve credit.

3. The Illinois Supreme Court is considered a "point of light" for several rulings that have been handed down. That’s also an accurate assessment.

Cross-posted at Illinois Justice Blog.


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