I have read with great interest the reaction of some readers to a recent Harris Poll that is critical of the state’s legal climate and trends.

As you reported, Harris conducted a poll this spring of more than 1,300 senior lawyers and executives in companies with annual revenues of at least $100 million. In the results of the survey, Georgia was ranked a disappointing 40th among the fifty states—a decline of 16 places in just five years and an all-time low.

Those who have chosen to comment on this poll in letters have characterized it as “propaganda” or at best inaccurate. Like the iconic and comical figure of the policeman in Hollywood movies, their message appears to be “move along, there is nothing to see here.”

They are wrong. There obviously is a problem. It is a problem that impacts every industry. And, it transcends party lines. If Georgia strives to continue to be among the top states for job creation we must ensure a fair and balanced civil justice system for all citizens, including small businesses, expanding companies and new industries.

In truth, is it really a surprise that the perception of Georgia’s legal climate has declined? Georgia has not adopted modern e-discovery rules like the majority of states, and instead relies upon laws drafted in 1966. Much of the remainder of the Georgia Civil Practice Act is of a similar vintage. The practice of forum shopping under Georgia’s byzantine venue laws, while a joy to plaintiffs’ lawyers, is not charitably viewed by businesses either inside or outside the state.  Georgia’s Judicial Qualifications Commission, the bulwark of an independent judiciary, has been beset with controversy. The Georgia Court of Appeals appears to be a deeply divided body producing a surprising number of split and conflicting decisions where outcomes seem to be decided by the luck of a panel draw. Inexplicable verdicts have cast the state in a bad light, such as the recent $3.9 million verdict against CSX, which had forbidden a movie company from filming on its tracks, but was found liable for the death of a crew member who trespassed anyway. It is no coincidence that Georgia now possesses the second largest market in the nation for personal injury advertising.

Our sister states are modernizing their laws and focused on fair and balanced reform. Will we eventually decide to do the same? The good news is this is a problem we can solve, if we just decide that we have the will to do it.

In the last session of the General Assembly, Georgia’s business judgment rule was revised to fix a decision by the Georgia Supreme Court that left Georgia corporate officers and directors exposed to liability that does not exist in most states. Additionally, Governor Deal has demonstrated a commitment to improving Georgia’s civil justice system—as he did with Georgia’s criminal justice system—by establishing a Court Reform Council to make Georgia’s litigation process more efficient.

Georgia has room for substantial improvement to its current legal environment, and we must aggressively work to reverse the problematic trends before it’s too late.

Kade Cullefer
Georgians for Lawsuit Reform