In 1998, as then-Circuit Judge Larry Starcher made a statewide case for why he deserved a promotion to West Virginia's highest court, he was unabashed and candid about his loyalties.
Starcher was a friend of the "working man" and, accordingly by his definition, an enemy of their bosses.
So taking in the latest Starcher headline-grabber -- he called his fellow justices "blind" for their failure to accede to his view that a Marshall County coal firm wronged an injured Ohio miner -- one can hardly stand surprised. Unbecoming as he may seem, Starcher called shots like these from the campaign trail. He said he'd take on companies and investors from the bench, and given the chance, that's exactly what he's done, time and again.
In the "blind" case, the Court ruled 4-1 that miner William L. Sedgmer Jr. had been injured in a freak accident that never could have been reasonably predicted. The majority agreed that this wasn't an instance of "negligence" by his employer and it shouldn't be held liable.
Beyond dissing the myopia of his colleagues, Starcher took the opposite view in his dissent, asserting that "workplace injuries and fatalities are unacceptable, intolerable and 100 percent preventable." To be sure, this suggestion should make West Virginia's heavy industrial employers shudder with revulsion.
Businesses make for easy enough lawsuit targets around here as it is. If our state's highest court ever adopted Starcher's view that companies should be held responsible for the predictable equivalent of a lightning strike on their property, the resulting avalanche of litigation would prove catastrophic to our economy.
Work injuries are not and will never be "100 percent preventable," any more than car accidents or broken bones on the playground. West Virginia coal mines and manufacturers could never meet such a standard; no doubt, most of them would themselves die trying.
Justice Starcher surely wouldn't mind as much. But the rest of us, worried about the viability of this state's economy in the Information Age, cannot play it so carefree. We have children who will need jobs and homes with value worth preserving.
We need West Virginia to be livable in 20 years, not embalmed as some kind of a nostalgic ode to our economic past.
So is West Virginia really "Open for Business"?
Starcher's re-election campaign in 2008 will prove a worthy barometer. Voters liked his populist flavor a decade ago. For our economy's sake, let's hope we don't go back for seconds.