WHEELING - West Virginia must improve the reputation of its court system if the state wants to improve job opportunities for local workers, according to a statewide group.
Steve Cohen, executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse told the Wheeling Lions Club on Wednesday that the state's judicial system is a barrier to employers who otherwise would add generous payrolls to the Mountain State.
"A national survey this year placed West Virginia 49th among the states as a favorable location for job creation," Cohen said. "Failure to fix our courts is driving jobs elsewhere."
Cohen told his audience at Wesbano Arena that reform is urgently needed on several fronts:
* Stopping out-of-state lawsuits from being filed here at West Virginia taxpayers' expense.
Cohen said a recent court decision allowed a Virginia resident who worked in Virginia and was injured on the job in Virginia to sue in West Virginia.
"It is not fair to us in West Virginia, who pay for our courts, to have to stand in line behind those from out-of-state, for justice.
Keeping junk science out of West Virginia courts.
Cohen said a Wheeling judge has ordered a review of a number of pending cases after one was found to have included "medical evidence" from a doctor who does not exist.
* Stopping the abuse from lawsuit mills, like the one in which a Harrison County radiologist was paid nearly $10 million by personal injury lawyers to perform mass screenings on potential asbestos victims, many of whom were allegedly never examined in person by the doctor.
* Enforcing the Code of Professional Conduct. The Wall Street Journal reported that Sago essentially became a playpen for ambulance-chasing personal injury lawyers seeking to profit from the grief of those mining families and the tragedy in their community.
Preventing out-of-control personal injury lawyer advertising which encourages people to sue even if they have not been injured.
CALA criticized the state's legal profession for sweeping under the rug proposed reforms that would have pre-screened lawyer ads.
* Reining in Attorney General Darrell McGraw for hiring outside counsel without any public scrutiny and basically converting a $10 million lawsuit settlement into a political slush fund, without giving a penny of it to the plaintiffs in the case.
CALA is calling for a Sunshine Law making the attorney general accountable for his handling public funds.
* Changing standards in West Virginia courts which make it possible for a person with no evidence of being injured to sue, the so-called "No Proof? No Problem!" test.
* Changing standards that allow a person responsible for paying for a portion of damages which a court determined the person did not cause.
Cohen added that the state's weak job market has been causing citizens to leave the state, especially younger workers. Fixing West Virginia's lawsuit abuse problems will help working families stay together.