Madison County Chief Judge Ann Callis downplays the American Tort Reform Foundation's annual judicial hellhole rankings, but you can bet she didn't want to see her county move back up the list.
After improvements in the eyes of the foundation, Madison County is now considered third worst in the nation.
And no wonder given the court's asbestos docket.
There was the embarrassing, appalling matter of Barbara Crowder, the judge formerly assigned to the asbestos docket. She assigned trial slots for 2013 to several plaintiff's law firms, and days later her campaign asked for and received $30,000 in donations from those firms.
Callis took Crowder off the asbestos docket right away. Amazingly, however, Madison County voters chose to retain Crowder as a judge. If her poor judgment at best wasn't reason enough to vote to remove her, wonder what it would take?
Even more troubling is that the number of asbestos lawsuits filed in the county have increased exponentially in recent years, to the point that 25 percent of all the cases in the nation are in Madison County. In 2006, 325 asbestos cases were filed; this year more than 1,000 are expected to be filed by year's end.
Cases are being filed in Madison County for a reason, and it's not the beautiful scenery. Plaintiff's attorneys, rightly or wrongly, believe this venue is slanted in their favor.
The hellhole label is bad not only for the courts but for our region's economy. If you were a business owner looking for a new home, would you want to relocate to a judicial hellhole? If you were a business owner considering moving elsewhere, this would be one more reason to leave.
St. Clair County was once on the list but not this year. It's important that Madison County get back on track and improve its reputation. This is one title that no one benefits by having.