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‘Tis the season for lists. Shopping lists. Mailing lists. Best dressed and worst dressed of 2004 lists. Don’t forget lists complaining about the civil justice system. Missed them? Last week, the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) released its third annual “Judicial Hellholes,” and the Center for Justice & Democracy issued its “Zany Immunity Law Awards.” They are not a point-counterpoint, but they are certainly a study in contrasts. ATRA, based in Washington, is a nonprofit that, as its name implies, seeks to improve the tort system by educating the public. Its 54-page report features nine jurisdictions and 391 footnotes. “The focus of this report,” the preface states, “is squarely on the conduct of judges who do not apply the law evenhandedly to all litigants and do not conduct trials in a fair and balanced manner. The Judicial Hellhole project is not an effort to obtain a special advantage for defendants or to criticize the service of those who sit on juries.” The Center for Justice & Democracy, in New York, describes itself as a nonprofit consumer rights organization that “fights to preserve the right to trial by jury and to keep an independent judiciary.” Its report is 15 pages long with 20 footnotes and humorous illustrations. “Every year,” the introduction says, “our nation’s special interests line up before Congress and state legislatures, with emptied pockets and outstretched hands, and ask for the opportunity to show their patriotic civic duty. How do they do that? Why, by getting immunity from liability, of course.” THE HELLHOLE THESIS The central thesis of the hellhole report, according to ATRA President Sherman Joyce, is that judges improperly allow lawsuits to be litigated in places unconnected to the dispute, where the plaintiff’s choice of venue is based on the perceived favorable bias of the court. He cited a case brought in Hampton County, S.C., by a woman injured during a rough landing on a flight between Georgia and New Jersey. Her justification for suing Continental Airlines in her home state, Joyce said, is that it sells tickets over the Internet. The Center for Justice & Democracy list is a first, said President Joanne Doroshow, who is a lawyer. “We’re just trying to raise awareness,” she said. These laws “tend to pass very much under the radar.” Just as ATRA acknowledges its list has raised its public profile, Doroshow believes the center’s list will elevate its own. What do they think of each other’s lists? In a press release, Doroshow called ATRA’s report “nothing more than an intimidation tactic against judges who are not beholden to corporate interests.” Thanks to her criticism last year, Doroshow added, the report focused less on juries and more on judges. Victor Schwartz, ATRA’s general counsel, was less critical. “I think it’s a very interesting thing that they did,” he said. “People ought to know about these laws.” The list would have greater impact, he added, if there were examples of people who were hurt by the laws. “There may be a good reason for them.” What Christmas presents would they like to give each other? “A good pair of reading glasses,” said Schwartz, so that Doroshow can see that the ATRA reports have always been about judges, not juries. “We’ll make sure it has a warning label,” added Joyce. Doroshow chose a llama. A law on her runners-up list limits the liability of owners who rent the animals out. “I would rent them a llama,” she said. “If they got hurt, they would have no recourse. And they would find out what that’s like.” THEY’RE MAKING A LIST Judicial Hellholes 2004 1. Madison County, Ill. 2. St. Clair County, Ill. 3. Hampton County, S.C. 4. The state of West Virginia 5. Jefferson County, Texas 6. Orleans Parish, La. 7. South Florida 8. Philadelphia 9. Los Angeles Top 10 Zany Immunity Law Awards 2004 1. Ballpark owners in Arizona, Colorado and Illinois have limited liability if fans are injured by foul balls. 2. Indiana cemetery owners have immunity for burying remains in the wrong place. 3. Volunteers who run bingo in Colorado have limited immunity if someone is hurt. 4. Indiana real estate agents aren’t liable for failing to tell a potential buyer that a house was the scene of a death or crime. 5. Louisiana organizations that sponsor parades have limited liability for injuries caused by flying beads. 6. In Idaho, Illinois, New Mexico and Tennessee, a donor of wild game meat used by a charity has limited liability for injuries or death caused by bad meat. 7. In Kansas, Missouri and Wisconsin, those storing anhydrous ammonia (a component of methamphetamine) aren’t liable if someone is hurt trying to steal it. 8. In numerous states, anyone who manufactures a placebo for professional research is immune from liability. 9. Maryland stores and their employees have limited immunity if they permit customers to use employee bathrooms. 10. Colorado tanning parlors have limited liability if customers overdo it.

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