Cohen

By STEVE COHEN

CHARLESTON -- The signs that West Virginia's broken legal system needs to be fixed seem to pop up faster than the fireworks explosions at the West Virginia State Fair.

Just a few days ago, Directorship Magazine named the Mountain State the worst legal climate in the nation for attracting business.

Ironically, we see signs posted across the state with Gov. Joe Manchin's slogan, "West Virginia is open for business" -– a motto that might best be retired or at least put in storage until our state leaders can address the longstanding and embarrassing problems in our courts.

The announcement by Directorship Magazine is not terribly surprising because West Virginians have been hearing for years about our state's dire legal problems and flat-out-noncompetitive position among all 50 states in terms of attracting jobs and investment.

Before Directorship Magazine's rock-bottom ranking of West Virginia, we heard similar news from Forbes Magazine, ranking our state last in the nation for job creation.

Also this year the Pacific Research Institute placed West Virginia dead last for its legal climate, and the Harris survey firm has found that major employers rank our state as the worst in the nation as a place to bring jobs and corporate investment.

The American Tort Reform Association didn't mince its words when labeling the state the only statewide "Judicial Hellhole" in the country.

So many sources have shown our civil laws and courts to be an embarrassment that maybe our new state motto should be "West Virginia -– the state of denial."

Yet our governor and the state's personal injury lawyers continue to try to polish the image of our malodorous legal system.

The 2007 Forbes rankings appeared soon after Gov. Manchin welcomed with grand fanfare 80 new truck assembly jobs here. No such hoopla over Eagle Plastics' announcement at about the same time it was shifting 75 of its West Virginia jobs to Georgia and the Carolinas.

The governor did circulate a column to newspapers around the state recently referring to "economic development hurdles we're succeeding at overcoming, including ... legal reform."

Can our state's taxpayers take comfort in paying for courthouses likely to be abused by personal injury lawyers and their out-of-state plaintiffs because of the loophole-laden "venue reform" bill that the Legislature passed and Gov. Manchin signed this year?

What about the scandal in the attorney general's office? Darrell McGraw questionable ethics in hiring his campaign contributors and spending tax dollars on campaign-like trinkets is another strike against West Virginia workers –- as employers pause to locate in a state whose top legal officer appears to be operating outside the law.

Does a state with a "No Proof? No Problem!" medical monitoring standard in its courts encourage job creation? In West Virginia you can file a lawsuit without any evidence of actual injury. And yes, in West Virginia you can be held liable for damages you did not cause.

Maybe the governor hasn't studied how West Virginia fits the stunning correlation between states with inhospitable legal environments and cellar-dwelling median income. Until he and the Legislature fix our state's broken lawsuit system, job creation here will only continue to sputter.

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

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