TALLAHASSEE (Florida Record) — Florida deserved the top spot in American Tort Reform Association (ATRA)'s latest list of "judicial hellholes" but there is hope for better days, the president of a leading tort reform advocacy group said during a recent interview.
"At the end of the day, I think it was a fair report," Florida Justice Reform Institute President William W. Large said during a Recent Florida Record interview.
ATRA's 2017-18 Judicial Hellholes list, released earlier this month, listed the Florida Supreme Court "majority's barely contained contempt for the policy-making authority of the legislative and executive branches of government" as a contributing factor for the state's top-ranking "judicial hellhole" states. However, the report and Large both listed reasons to hope the state might improve, including Florida high court Justices C. Alan Lawson, Justice Charles T. Canady and Justice Ricky Polston. Large listed the three justices among "bright lights" in Florida.
"Lawson, Canady and Polston have written strong dissents that, hopefully, will be adopted in the future," Large said.
Florida Justice Reform Institute is a leading judicial advocate leading "the business community's efforts to restore fairness and predictability to the state's civil justice system."
ATRF, based in Washington, has issued its annual "Judicial Hellholes" report since its first one in 2002.
ATRA's "judicial hellholes" report, issued earlier this month, also blamed in part Florida's "aggressive personal injury bar's fraudulent and abusive practices in South Florida and elsewhere have also tarnished the state’s reputation" and helped achieve the top rank, an ATRA news release said.
Florida top spot on this year's ATRA report contrasted with the improvement in the association's 2016-17 Judicial Hellholes list, in which the state dropped from No. 3 to No. 4 position.
The state's latest "judicial hellhole" ranking is discouraging, Large said. "I was disappointed that Florida was named on the judicial hellholes list because we've been working to get tort reform measures passed in the state legislature," he said.
Tort reform had a rough time in Florida this past year. In June the Florida Supreme Court, in a 4-3 ruling with Polston, Lawson and Canady dissenting, found a 2003 Gov. Jeb Bush-era tort reform law to be unconstitutional.
However, ATRA's news release also indicated there is hope that Florida's judicial issues might improve. "Encouragingly, at least some plaintiffs' lawyers who've crossed the line are being held accountable, either with stiff court sanctions or criminal prosecutions," the release said.
The report also pointed out that on the Florida court, "the high court’s plaintiff-friendly majority this year shrunk from 5-2 to 4-3" and that "three like-minded colleagues face mandatory retirement in early 2019."
Large said he thought the latest ATRA report will help drive improvement in Florida because the respected association's rankings helps to shine light on these problems in the Sunshine State. "It can only go up from here," Large said.