The American Tort Reform Association released its annual judicial hellholes ranking, and Philadelphia is ranked as #1. The primary reason cited for this ranking was the performance of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Complex Litigation Center, which handles mass torts and other big, complex cases.
In Philadelphia, where attytood is everything, we usually revel in being called the baddest of the bad. It is a point of civic pride that many consider Philadelphia sports fans the nastiest in America, based on incidents ranging from the booing of Santa Claus years ago to the tasing of a fan this year. Philadelphians celebrated being named the fattest city in America by ordering another cheesesteak with extra Cheez Whiz. And the reaction to Philadelphia’s annual ranking as one of the most obscene cities in America is unprintable in this blog – it ends in “ay.”
Perhaps our readers will expect that we, writing for a defense-oriented blog from Philadelphia, would have a similar reaction to being named the top judicial hellhole. Sorry, we don’t think that Philadelphia is so bad that it merits this designation. Sure, we have read decisions that we think are wrong, some of which we have written about on this blog. Others are so bad that we have not given them any air time. We also have heard stories about bizarre, unfair, and irrational developments during trials.
But bad decisions and outsized verdicts happen in many court systems. As we have said before, we think Philadelphia’s reputation as a pro-plaintiff venue is a bit overblown. In the past year, we have highlighted some good decisions by judges in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Complex Litigation Center and the Pennsylvania appellate courts. We believe that most judges in the local courts are trying to be fair, and the judges in the Complex Litigation Center include some pretty good judges.
ATRA’s “litigation tourism” charge we see as particularly unfair.  True, most of the CLC cases have no factual nexus with Philadelphia, and don’t belong here.  As Philly taxpayers, we resent having to pay for the adjudication of cases from Utah or Georgia.  But that’s not the fault of the judges of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.  As we’ve already discussed, here, our trial court judges – particularly Judge Mazer-Moss – have tried repeatedly to send the litigation tourists back where they came from.  Time and time again, however, they have been shot down by Pennsylvania’s appellate courts.  So while it’s absolutely true that most of the cases clogging the CLC are brought in the wrong venue, the blame for that state of affairs shouldn’t be placed on Philadelphia judges.  They don’t like it any more than we do.
We know that some of the local procedures are challenging, but once you get familiar with them, as well as with the judges, you can usually get to a reasonable place. Same with jurors. Maybe if you’re from out of town you might misread that eerily silent juror from Fishtown, or the one from Olney who won’t stop smiling. But when you get a sense of Philadelphians, you just might find a lot of common sense and well-placed skepticism.
For those readers expecting a full-fledged reaffirmation of ATRA’s designation and colorful stories of outrageous misbehavior by local judges, we’re sorry. We call ’em as we see ’em here, and what we see doesn’t look as bad as it’s cracked up to be. Truth be told, we like it here just fine, attytood and all. And, apparently, so does Cliff Lee.