By STEVE COHEN
Happy days are here again for the West Virginia personal injury bar. Menis Ketchum's "In a wreck? Get a check!" TV ads can now include his Supreme Court nominee pedigree.
Provided, of course, he can escape close scrutiny.
This is the Menis Ketchum who said he would not wage a negative campaign, but ran TV spots fabricating a federal probe of an incumbent justice.
This is the Menis Ketchum who told newspaper readers vacation photos of an incumbent justice "threatens the integrity of the West Virginia judicial system," but told a broadcast audience it "doesn't bother me."
This is the Menis Ketchum who said he would protect med-mal caps at the same time his law firm was fighting them,
This is the Menis Ketchum who told a professional society he is "conservative" but told a newspaper reporter he is "moderate"
This is the Menis Ketchum who claimed only one other lawyer in the state filed more case before the Supreme Court, an assertion comparable to gunfire on the tarmac in Bosnia.
This is the Menis Ketchum who ran campaign commercials with uniformed police officers, said he "didn't know the law," vowed to pull the ads but kept them on the air.
This is the Menis Ketchum who explained an exchange of nearly a dozen phone calls with Justice Larry Starcher on a January weekend was to inquire if the justice was seeking re-election, even though the answer to that question was on the record the previous month. No, those calls -– and contacts that weekend with the incoming head of the state personal injury bar, Al Karlin –- had to do with one of Starcher's court colleagues.
Still, the lawsuit industry in West Virginia is regaling to that '60's Motown tune, "If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time." After all, Warren McGraw is back on the bench, in the Wyoming County circuit. So where is Tony Dean Arbaugh these days?
Connect the dots. The same folks who carried the McGraw banner four years ago are in the tank for Menis this year.
Look for the Institute for Legal Reform, based in the nation's capital, to rate West Virginia's legal system worst in the U.S. for a fourth consecutive year in 2009.
Look for more surveys like the one recently published in the National Law Journal which found that three of the seven most costly verdicts in the United States over the past year were delivered in West Virginia courtrooms. In one of those lawsuits, the personal injury lawyers split a $135 million in fees and reimbursed expenses. You read correctly. That's what the personal injury lawyers got.
Look for more $25 million verdicts against community hospitals like the one slapped on a community hospital in our state where there was no physical harm. None. Think your hospital visits are going to be more affordable anytime soon?
Then there's Warren McGraw's brother, Darrell, the attorney general. Hires cronies, converts millions of dollars from lawsuit settlements into, essentially, a political slush fund, forfeits $5 million in federal Medicaid funds as a result of his reckless spending.
Menis. Warren. Darrell. What a triple crown.
Cohen is executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.