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'Hellhole' report shows positive development


IN WHAT HAS become a year-end tradition, the American Tort Reform Assn. has released its list of "Judicial Hellholes," an ugly term for an ugly legal situation. And this year's report has some good news in that the situation didn't get any uglier.

As we report on page 1, the list of hellholes remained steady at six. All six appeared on last year's list as well, albeit in a different order. That no new jurisdictions have earned the designation of judicial hellhole--which the report defines as places where "judges systematically apply laws and procedures in unfair and unbalanced ways, generally against defendants in civil lawsuits"--is a positive development.

Unfortunately, there's no guarantee that the list will shrink--or even remain static--during the coming year. Jurisdictions have been added to the report's watch list "due to suspicious or negative developments in the litigation environment." The results of last month's elections will no doubt bring new assaults on reform. These will almost certainly include efforts to roll back enacted reforms while broadening definitions of liability.

No one should dispute that, as a whole, the news in the report is good. But what's also beyond dispute is that there's no reason to believe that such good news will simply keep generating itself. The challenges for reform advocates are likely to grow more formidable. Only continued efforts to maintain gains already made while pushing for reform in jurisdictions that have continued to resist reform will render those challenges surmountable.