Since its inception in 2002, the American Tort Reform Foundation’s Judicial Hellholes® program has documented in annually published reports various abuses within the civil justice system, focusing primarily on jurisdictions where courts have been radically out of balance.
Traditionally, Judicial Hellholes have been considered places where judges systematically apply laws and court procedures in an unfair and unbalanced manner, generally against defendants in civil lawsuits. Now, as both technology and the liability-expanding strategies of the nation’s formidable litigation industry evolve, the Judicial Hellholes program must evolve, too. Though it remains focused on judges and the courts, Judicial Hellholes reporting will occasionally expand its focus to the legislative and executive branches’ growing influence on the courts, while moving to a year-round online format that will offer real-time updates and analyses of civil justice developments as they occur.
Of course, most judges do a diligent and fair job for modest pay. Even in Judicial Hellholes jurisdictions, including some that have received national attention, the clear majority of judges are fair, and the negative publicity can be blamed on a few bad apples. Because judges generally set the rules in personal injury lawsuits, and those rulings weigh so heavily on the outcomes of individual cases, it may only take one or two judges who stray from the law to sully the reputation of an entire jurisdiction.
Though entire states may occasionally be cited as Hellholes, it is usually only specific counties or courts in a given state that warrant this citation. And, importantly, jurisdictions discussed in this report and online are not the only Judicial Hellholes in the United States; they are simply among the worst.
To the extent possible, ATRF is specific in explaining how and why particular courts, laws or regulations can produce unfair civil justice outcomes in the jurisdictions cited. These cities, counties or judicial districts are frequently identified by members of the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) and other individuals familiar with the litigation. But because sources for Judicial Hellholes information may fear lawsuits or other retaliation in these jurisdictions, they sometimes prefer to have their names and cases kept out of the program’s reporting.
ATRF annually surveys ATRA members and others with firsthand experience in Judicial Hellholes jurisdictions as part of its research process. Because the program has become widely known, ATRF also continually receives and gathers information provided by a variety of additional sources. After interviewing such sources, Judicial Hellholes reporters work to confirm the information with independent research of publicly available court documents, judicial branch statistics, press accounts, and various studies. As the Judicial Hellholes program goes online, it also invites visitors to provide additional firsthand leads and inside information.
(The Judicial Hellholes program considers only civil litigation; it does not reflect in any way on the criminal justice system.)
* * *
The American Tort Reform Foundation (ATRF) is a District of Columbia nonprofit corporation, founded in 1997. The primary purpose of the Foundation is to educate the general public about how the American civil justice system operates; the role of tort law in the civil justice system; and the impact of tort law on the private, public and business sectors of society.
“Judicial Hellholes” is a registered trademark of ATRA used by ATRF under license.