CHARLESTON -- A statewide legal reform group says West Virginia's move back to the top of the "Judicial Hellhole" standings underscores the need for reform.
After falling to fourth last year, West Virginia leads the American Tort Reform Foundation's annual list of seven "Judicial Hellholes" again this year. The Mountain State again is the only statewide jurisdiction to be so labeled by ATRF.
"West Virginia's court system must shake its reputation for being unfriendly to jobs," West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse Executive Director Steve Cohen said. "By taking bold steps toward reform in the legislative session soon, state leaders can send a message to employers that they can succeed here."
Cohen also noted a state survey released last month by Mark Blankenship Enterprises that supports the national assessment by ATRF – that a broken civil justice system in the state is a barrier to economic growth. That survey found that six of 10 West Virginians registering an opinion said lawsuits are bad for the state's economy.
In light of the ATRF report, Cohen said CALA is asking lawmakers to:
* Pass a so-called "Sunshine Law" to bring transparency to Attorney General Darrell McGraw's practices of hiring outside attorneys, who often also are contributors to his election campaigns;
* Restore the Legislature's control over state spending by imposing effective controls over the AG's office's handing out of lawsuit settlement dollars "to feather his political nest;"
* Remove partisan designations from all judicial candidates on the ballot, a process that "tends to elect good politicians rather than the best legal minds and takes politics out of our courts;"
* Place controls over lawsuits being filed in West Virginia jurisdictions where there is little or no connection to the parties in the suits; and
* Change the legal standard in West Virginia courts that Cohen calls "No Proof? No Problem!," meaning lawsuits can be filed here without any evidence of actual injury.
Cohen also noted a spring report by the U.S Chamber Institute for Legal Reform that found West Virginia's judicial landscape as the worst in the nation. He also noted that Forbes magazine placed West Virginia 50th among all states for job creation, largely because of lawsuits, as did a recent American Legislative Exchange Council analysis.
The West Virginia Record is owned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
WV CALA also points to a study in the National Law Journal early in 2008 which showed that three of the seven largest verdicts in the entire country in 2007 were delivered in West Virginia courtrooms.
"For a state as tiny as West Virginia, "that makes a bold statement to employers scouting sites to create jobs," Cohen said.