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Report from watchdog group calls California courts 'judicial hellhole'

11:21 PM, Dec 13, 2012   |    comments
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A Washington-based legal watchdog group has put California at the very top of it's list of "judicial hellholes" in the United States.

The American Tort Reform Foundation said the state is "the heavyweight champion" of class action lawsuits, and dings California for rampant abuses of ADA access lawsuits and blames the state for defunding it's judicial system.

It's a claim much debated by legal experts in California.

"It's too easy to sue people, it's too hard to get out of a lawsuit," said Kimberly Stone, president of the Civil Justice Association of California, a group that advocates for California corporations, governmental organizations and doctors, among others.

"We are home to the Crunch Berries lawsuit, where somebody sued the cereal because Crunch Berries doesn't actually have berries in it," said Stone, referring to a suit that was dismissed, as an example of frivilous class action suits in California.

Others disagree.

"We have better safety or we have better products because of these class action lawsuits," McGeorge Law School Professor of Tort Law Lawrence Levine said.

"What we often hear about are the lawsuits that are filed. But we don't follow up and learn that they've been dismissed by these judges that are being classified as part of this 'judicial hellhole,'" Levine said.

Stone called "abusive ADA lawsuits" another example of what's wrong with the state's legal system.

"Certain lawyers would go around basically engaging in legalized extortion," Stone said, mentioning Sacramento attorney Scott Johnson, who filed scores of lawsuits against Northern California businesses.

She acknowledged Senate Bill 1186, passed this year, will likely curb some of the worst offenses.

"That lawyer is being sanctioned. The system in a sense, is working," said Levine, referring to a lawsuit filed against attorney Scott Johnson.

On one issue, both attorney's agree.

The report dings California for defunding it's court system and both Stone and Levine agree the consequences could be a disaster for California.

"The idea that people who have been wronged can't get to trial in a timely manner," said Levine. "People are waiting five, six, seven years sometimes to have their day in court and that's just an outrage."


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