Harris Poll ranks West Virginia worst legal climate; Delaware best

Chris Rizo Apr. 23, 2008, 5:31am

Thomas Donohue

Jon Haber

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-Delaware has the nation's best legal climate, while courts in West Virginia ranked at the bottom, according to a survey of corporate attorneys released Wednesday.

The study, commissioned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, found that Nebraska, Maine, Indiana and Utah were also in the top-five states with favorable legal climates, attorneys said.

In these states, lawyers cited, among other things, the courts' quality of judges, the predictability of judges and damage awards as reasons for their favorable ratings.

States at the bottom of the rankings were Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Illinois, according to the survey of 957 corporate lawyers.

Attorneys in those states cited such things as corruption, unfair judges and high awards as reasons for their dissatisfaction with the local judiciary.

The seventh annual study was conducted by Harris Interactive Inc. and released by the Chamber's Washington-based Institute for Legal Reform. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce owns Legal Newsline.

Overall, 41 percent of the poll's respondents said they had a favorable view of state courts overall, while 55 percent rated their home state's courts as either fair or poor.

The overwhelming majority of respondents, 64 percent, said a state's legal climate is an important consideration in deciding whether to locate, expand or do business there.

"We've been telling state policymakers for seven years now that they need to improve their state's lawsuit system in order to attract new business and grow jobs," U.S. Chamber of Commerce president Thomas Donohue said in a statement.

"But some states are learning that changing the law isn't enough -- they also need to make sure their courts correctly apply the law," he added.

The report, "Lawsuit Climate 2008: Ranking the States," also found that Los Angeles ranked as the city or county with the worst legal climate for business, while Chicago/Cook County, Ill., came in second.

The American Association for Justice, a trial lawyers' group, decried the study as corporate propaganda.

"The 'study' is based on a survey of corporate defense lawyers from multi-million dollar corporations who are paid to avoid accountability for their misconduct and negligence," the Washington-based organization said in a statement.

Jon Haber, CEO of the group, said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's goal is to "make sure people can't get justice in the courtroom, especially against the corporations that finance this front group."

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo by e-mail at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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