Dembe, who at the time was grappling with the prospect of severe budget cuts and layoffs, was quoted in the Legal Intelligencer as saying she wanted to make Philadelphia courts more attractive, "so we are taking business away from other courts."
But Herron, who did not mention Dembe by name, concluded the effect of those comments was to worsen an existing backlog.
Dembe could not be reached for comment.
The initiative is aimed at Philadelphia's Complex Litigation Center, a subdivision of the court system that focuses on product-liability lawsuits involving hundreds of plaintiffs and other forms of commercial litigation requiring a high degree of expertise.
"I think this is an attempt to rebalance what had become totally out of balance," said Robert Heim, a trial lawyer with Dechert L.L.P. and a former chancellor of the city bar association. "There was a large number of cases filed by lawyers in Texas, Florida, and West Virginia."
The view of Heim and other defense lawyers that the civil court system is clogged by forum-shopping lawyers from out of state is disputed by trial attorneys, who say the courts generally function well and are not overloaded.
"Philadelphia is a big city with lots of business and a big, active judiciary; you don't get any kind of bonanza in Philadelphia," said Laura Feldman, president of the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association. "You get predictability, so when you file your case here, you get a pretty good idea of when the case will be tried."
Still, Philadelphia courts have been bitterly criticized by the American Tort Reform Association, an advocacy group representing the National Federation of Independent Business, the American Medical Association, and other commercial and professional interests.
For the last two years, the tort-reform association has named Philadelphia the nation's number-one "judicial hellhole," asserting that its plaintiff-friendly environment had tilted the balance toward plaintiffs' lawyers seeking windfall jury awards and settlements.
Herron, administrative judge of the trial division of the Court of Common Pleas, said that such criticism did not figure into his order and that he had arrived at the changes after soliciting comment from defense and plaintiffs lawyers.
But the order addresses several of the most prominent complaints the tort-reform association raised. In one example, it sharply restricts a controversial practice of consolidating multiple lawsuits into one trial except in cases where both sides agree to consolidation.
Defense lawyers had long complained that trying multiple cases at once confuses juries and makes it harder to draw distinctions between defendants.
Under the old system, they contended, irresponsible and potentially negligent actions of one defendant could easily be attributed by jurors to other corporate defendants who had done nothing wrong.
Herron said a primary concern was the backlog of asbestos cases that followed Dembe's invitation.
From 2001 through 2008, out-of-state filings accounted for one-third of the cases at the Complex Litigation Center. By 2011, Herron said, they accounted for nearly half of all filings, which he called astonishing.
His order also continues the phasing-out of a practice called reverse bifurcation, in which juries are asked to decide damages before they reach a judgment on whether the defendant caused the harm. Some critics contend the practice favors plaintiffs, putting enormous pressure on defendants to settle.
The tort-reform association said it was considering taking Philadelphia off its list of problem court systems by midyear if Herron's order is fully implemented.
Contact Chris Mondics
at 215-854-5957 or firstname.lastname@example.org.