That’s a really nice view of downtown St. Louis. We have an office in St. Louis and if you’ve ever been there, I’m sure you noticed the great neighborhoods, outstanding colleges, Busch Stadium, toasted ravioli, Italian food on the Hill, and maybe even experienced Mardis Gras in Soulard. Of course, there’s the arch. And Budweiser. Who could forget Budweiser.
St. Louis certainly doesn’t seem like a Hellhole. Of course, it’s not. Except in the eyes of the fine folks at the at the American Tort Reform Foundation, an arm of the American Tort Reform Association, which was founded in 1986 by the American Medical Association and the American Council of Engineering Companies. The ATRA is now funded by hundreds of large corporations. A sample list of ATRA financiers includes some of the largest companies in the world.
So, despite all of St. Louis’s great amenities, the good folks at ATRA have labeled St. Louis a Judicial Hellhole®. See, they even trademarked the moniker.
Of course the label is completely made up. In a different venue, one might call it bull—-. And the description would be accurate. There’s no scientific basis. There’s no methodology. It’s propaganda. Nothing more.
How do I know this? Because the ATRA said so:
The question is whether the report’s arguments make sense, are supported by evidence and are applied evenhandedly. Here the report often falls short.
It is, for starters, a collection of anecdotes based largely on newspaper accounts. It has no apparent methodology. There is no way to tell why South Florida is the top hellhole while West Virginia is hellhole No. 4.
“We never claimed to be an empirical study,” said Darren McKinney, a spokesman for the association.
– Adam Liptak, The New York Times (Dec. 24, 2007)
And so, the folks at ATRA call St. Louis a Judicial Hellhole® even though it’s not.
How do I know St. Louis is not a Judicial Hellhole® stifling business growth in the community? Because Forbes magazine and the St. Louis Business Journal said this week that “St. Louis’ diverse group of entreprenuers are creating a new era in which the city will be startup haven.”
“There’s an entrepreneurial sea change going on in St. Louis,” said Jerry Schlicter, president and founder of Arch Grants, which is helping alter the city’s business DNA by giving $50,000 to promising startups (including the handing out of $1.2 million in 2013 alone) while only requiring the companies to relocate to the region. “Startups are being attracted to the region by the combination of the community’s strong support, unique real estate that’s both historic and affordable, and cutting edge technology they are seeing spring from others in the city.”
– Aaron Perlut at Forbes Magazine
St. Louis was even one of the finalists for production of Boeing’s 777x, though the plane will ultimately be made in Boeing’s hometown of Seattle after it reached an agreement with the local union. Boeing indicated it had preferred to keep production at its historic operating base all along. If St. Louis was actually a Judicial Hellhole® or had a negative business climate, Boeing would never have even considered St. Louis in the first place, much less made St. Louis one of the finalists for such a massive production endeavor.
Want to know about an actual hellhole near St. Louis? It’s the area surrounding The Doe Run Company’s lead smelter in Herculanum – a small community outside of St. Louis, Missouri.
The Doe Run Company and its predecessors mined lead in Eastern Missouri and smelted lead in Herculaneum. The companies polluted thousands of acres and poisoned unknown numbers of people – and they did it willfully and intentionally. That’s what a jury decided in 2011
A June 2012 report about the case said:
Decades ago, the smelter filled the air of the company town with particulate matter so heavy, it sometimes made it impossible to see even across the stree.
Homes within a buyout zone around the smelter have been demolished, and it has been blamed by federal and state environmental officials for contaminating streets, yards and houses, and putting the health of local residents at risk.
– Leah Thorsen at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
So what did Doe Run do after a jury found that it broke the rules? Doe Run went to work to get the rules changed. It hired lobbyists and went to work in the legislature to get the rules changed. And, unfortunately, its plan worked. The Missouri legislature gave Doe Run special treatment even after it poisoned and unknown (hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands) number of Missouri citizens.
If an ordinary person systematically poisoned an entire community, he or she would be labeled a monster, locked up, and the key thrown away. When a corporation does it… well, it’s just business. Because if you have enough money, and hire enough lobbyists, the rules just don’t apply to you.
And if you disagree with that, well, ATRA will likely say you’re a Judicial Hellhole®.
© Copyright 2014 Brett A. Emison
Follow @BrettEmison on Twitter.
Brett Emison is currently a partner at Langdon & Emison, a firm dedicated to helping injured victims across the country from their primary office near Kansas City. Mainly focusing on catastrophic injury and death cases as well as complex mass tort and dangerous drug cases, Mr. Emison often deals with automotive defects, automobile crashes, railroad crossing accidents (train accidents), trucking accidents, dangerous and defective drugs, defective medical devices.