Wednesday, December 13, 2006

For Immediate Release:
December 13, 2006

Contact: Joanne Doroshow or Laurie Beacham

Consumer Group Condemns Vicious Report Attacking South Florida Judges

New York, NY – The Center for Justice & Democracy (CJ&D) today called the American Tort Reform Association’s “Judicial Hellholes 2006” report attacking judges in South Florida, “vicious and undemocratic, not to mention dishonest and ungrounded.” In its report released today, ATRA launches a ferocious attack on fair and independent judges based on the apparent views of its members that include polluters, tobacco companies, and the insurance industry, among other industries.

“With the insurance industry now making grossly excessive profits off the backs of policyholders in the state of Florida, combined with legislation that has severely weakened the state’s civil justice system, this report is incredibly brazen in its vicious and unfounded attacks on Florida’s courts,” said Joanne Doroshow, Executive Director for CJ&D. “What’s more, it is a shameful violation of the very foundations of our democracy. The American public does not want judges to have to look over their shoulder to calculate how their decisions might play with corporate-backed special interest groups like this.”

Doroshow added, “ATRA believes that rulings by judges that hold industries accountable are bad for the state, harming South Florida, when, in fact, the opposite is true. South Florida’s economy is strong and growing.” For example:

• South Florida cities are ranked among the best cities to do business in America. According to Inc. Magazines’ best cities for business in America, Florida cities dominated the list. “A remarkable six of the top 25 cities on the large list, including No. 5 West Palm Beach, No. 7 Fort Lauderdale, No. 8 Jacksonville, No. 11 Orlando, No. 14 Tampa-St. Petersburg, and No. 22 Miami, are from the Sunshine State…”1 ; “For the second straight year, Miami ranked second behind Santiago, Chile, as the best city to do business with Latin America, according to a survey by Spanish-language magazine America-Economia.”2

• South Florida’s gross regional product is growing. “Florida's state domestic product, in real terms, grew 7 percent last year and he [Wachovia Corp. senior economist Mark Vitner] predicts 6.6 percent expansion in 2006. He estimated South Florida's gross regional product growth at about 2.8 percent in 2005 and jumping about 4.4 percent this year.”3

• Latin America’s economic boom has been a boost to South Florida’s economy. As the Miami Herald noted in their reporting on the phenomenon of South Florida businesses “riding the surge of Latin American economic growth … a recent IMF Regional Economic Outlook forecast 4.75 percent economic growth for the region in 2006, the third year Latin American economies expanded by more than 4 percent. ‘This makes the ongoing period the most vigorous three-year period since the 1970s,’ said the report.”4

• Real estate, construction, tourism and trade in South Florida continue to be strong. “After several years of gangbuster economic growth in South Florida, now the problem is how to manage it. Unemployment is at record lows, and the pace of job growth is expected to continue.… Still, there's little doubt that South Florida's economy has grown at an incredible rate over the past few years, and 2006 seems no different.”5

• Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties accounted for almost a quarter of the 1.9 million new residents the state added from 2000 to 2005. About 90 percent of that growth is from people who move there, rather than from a natural increase.… That influx of people, as well as the popularity of the secondary home market, has helped fuel the real estate boom. Although single-family home sales have been slowing across the country, local analysts say South Florida is likely to see a slight cooling this year, rather than a sharp drop-off. 6

• “Despite the hurricanes, 2005 was still a record-breaking year for tourism for both the state and the region. Visit Florida has forecast 3.2 percent growth this year, which is better than the national average, but 2 percent slower than last year.”7 Atlantic Sands hotel manager Dori Lynn Neuwirth said 2005 was the best ever in more than 40 years of business. She sees little change this year. ‘I wish I had more rooms,'’ said Neuwirth of the Hollywood hotel.” 8

• Florida expected to experience sustained growth. According to a report released by the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Economic Competitiveness, entitled Florida Forecast 2006-2009, Florida’s economy is expected to “see robust growth over our forecast horizon.” In South Florida, “Personal income is expected to grow, on average, at 6.2% annually over the next three years.… Employment growth is predicted at 2.2% annually.” While the report does foresee a slow down in the state’s housing market, Sean Snaith, director of UCF's Institute for Economic Competitiveness, has said in published reports that while “some may see this deceleration as the beginning of the end of this economic expansion” following the real estate explosion in recent years, “I see it as a sign that it has become sustainable. "9

According to Doroshow, “With money and politics already dominating the executive and legislative branches, our court system is one of the only places left in America where injured citizens can successfully confront powerful industries and institutions and stop misconduct. The last thing we need are bogus attacks from groups like ATRA that threaten judicial independence, a cornerstone of our democracy, for the sake of restricting legitimate lawsuits against corporate wrongdoers.”

1 “South Florida’s Economic Forecast,” Miami Herald, Jan. 9, 2006.

2 “Top 25 Cities for Doing Business in America,” Inc. Magazine, March 2004

3 “Miami Herald Business briefs,” Miami Herald, May 30, 2005

4 Bussey, Jane, “Growth in Latin America lifts South Florida businesses,” Miami Herald, December 04, 2006

5 Boodhoo, Niala, “S. Fla.'s outlook on jobs good in '06”, Miami Herald, Jan. 9, 2006.

6 Ibid.

7 Boodhoo, Niala, “Tourism”, Miami Herald, Jan. 9, 2006.

8 Boodhoo, Niala, “S. Fla.'s outlook on jobs good in '06”, Miami Herald, Jan. 9, 2006.

9 Blake, Scott, “Brevard, state economies have prosperous forecasts,” Florida Today, November 17, 2006

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