Cohen

By STEVE COHEN

CHARLESTON -- Just think: based upon comments by Delegate Carrie Webster (D-Kanawha), the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, she could potentially earn herself a nomination for the John F. Kennedy Foundation's "Profiles In Courage" Award.

It is presented annually "to encourage elected officials to choose principles over partisanship –- to do what is right." The JFK Foundation calls it "the nation's most prestigious honor for elected public servants."

No such nomination has been forthcoming yet, but the idea comes from the unlikely source of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. After all, Delegate Webster typically takes campaign contributions from personal injury lawyer interests, not those fighting for lawsuit abuse reforms.

And Delegate Webster was appointed to her post by Speaker Rick Thompson, who topped the "Dirty Dozen" by raking in more money from personal injury lawyers in his re-election run than any other legislative candidate in the entire state.

Both Webster and Thompson have voting records in the House solidly opposed to legal reforms that employers find attractive to job creation.

Thompson even stacked Webster's Judiciary Committee with Delegates one might suspect are in the pocket of the lawsuit industry. Two-thirds of his 18 appointments were bankrolled with personal injury lawyer money for their campaigns.

But Chairman Webster told a reporter the opening week of this new legislature that she is "really trying to reach out to people who go beyond [her] [political] philosophy."

It would be courageous, indeed, for Chairman Webster to defy the lawsuit industry by keeping lawsuits out of West Virginia which have no connection to the state. To keep junk science out of our courts, like the "medical evidence" presented by personal injury lawyers from a fictitious doctor. To hold public officials like Attorney General Darrell McGraw accountable for their hiring practices under a Sunshine law.

For that matter, Chairman Webster could share the award with Speaker Thompson. After all, he proclaimed in the run-up to this legislature that he would cast aside personal ideology to "manage from the middle."

Principles over partisanship. To do what is right. And with leadership from this popular governor, the award could be shared.

The real winner here will be West Virginia families, with job opportunities growing as employers embrace a reformed legal system that finally has a reputation for fairness and integrity. But wouldn't it be a proud moment to see a Profiles in Courage prize given to a political leader from here? After all, President Kennedy may never have made it to White House if not for our state.

Cohen is executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.

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