Community Commentary: Trial lawyers have made O.C. a 'Judicial Hellhole'

At this time most people are aware that Orange County is one of the most litigious counties not only in California, but the entire nation.

Now, just in time for the holidays, we learn California has earned itself the dubious distinction of being named a "Judicial Hellhole" by the American Tort Reform Foundation in its 2011-12 Judicial Hellholes report.

This report names Philadelphia as the worst while courts in California were second, followed by West Virginia, Florida, Illinois, New York and Nevada.

The report identifies California's disability access laws and easily exploited consumer protection laws as magnets for lawsuit abuse.

As reasons for California's designation, the report cites the failure of the California Legislature to pass badly needed legal reforms, the inability of its courts to stop "vexatious litigants" and decisions from its courts that expand liability.

The report suggests California may be losing jobs to states such as Texas, which has promoted a pro-business environment with policies including aggressive legal reforms.

According to the report,

frequent filers of abusive lawsuits alleging violations of California's disability access laws are destroying small businesses; they are specifically targeting business owners who are English-as-second-language immigrants or otherwise lack an understanding of their legal rights.

The report cites one prolific filer who is responsible for more than 1,500 of these suits since 2003, and another who has even sued the cities of Stockton and Lodi, alleging that certain sidewalks are not fully accessible.

The California Senate Judiciary Committee in May rejected legislation that would have made clear the ability of California judges to declare such serial plaintiffs "vexatious litigants" and require them to obtain permission from the court before suing.

The annual report identifies as "Judicial Hellholes" areas across the country that have a disproportionately harmful impact on civil litigation. Personal injury lawyers seek out these places because they expect a positive outcome — an excessive verdict or settlement, or a favorable precedent.

It is no honor for us to be on the "Judicial Hellhole" list. We have put up with the trial lawyers' and the Legislature's outrageous behaviors long enough. It is a time for the people of Orange County to demand reasonable and sensible changes to our laws.

MICHAEL ARNOLD GLUECK, a Newport Beach resident, is on the state advisory board of California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.

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