Shopping for success

By The SE Texas Record | Jun 27, 2009

Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door. Create a plaintiff-friendly courtroom and soon you'll have an overloaded docket.

It's reasonable for an attorney to hope that a client's case winds up in the courtroom of a fair judge. And it's proper to seek a change of venue if the one assigned poses undue hardship for the client or the potential of bias against him.

The practice of "venue shopping" is an entirely different matter.

When a plaintiff's attorney files suit in a particular venue in expectation of favorable treatment or to purposely inconvenience a defendant by adding cost and travel time, it smacks of trying to game the system. And it takes an obliging judge to succeed.

The obliging judge is the key. In such a scenario the word gets around quickly and other ethically challenged lawyers try to duplicate the process. Such an obliging judge soon acquires a reputation and a burgeoning caseload can follow.

Federal Judge T. John Ward of the Marshall Division of the Eastern District of Texas saw his docket rise from 67 intellectual property and patent liability cases handled by his court in 2004 to 234 in 2007.

The Record reported this week on a personal-injury lawsuit filed recently in the Marshall Division seeking compensation for a construction site accident. One of the defendants requested that the case be transferred to the federal court in Tyler, 60 miles away, which is where the incident occurred, where the equipment involved was rented, and where the entities involved in the construction activity are located.

Judge Ward denied the request.

Location, location, location used to be the slogan of real estate agents. Some say it's become the mantra of a group of trial attorneys. Get your case in the right court and the chances of a verdict in your favor are greatly increased, seems to be the thinking of the day.

Fortunately, higher court judges are watching. Since last December the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has twice granted changes of venue denied by Judge Ward's Marshall Division.

The forum shoppers are not pleased. We are.

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