"Veni, vidi, vici," said Julius Caesar, neatly summarizing a swift, decisive military victory. "I came, I saw, I conquered."
Then there's "Venue vidi, vici." That's how certain plaintiffs attorneys would like to summarize legal triumphs in West Virginia. "I found the right venue and won."
It's good legal practice for defense attorneys to request a change of venue when they believe their client cannot get a fair trial in the jurisdiction where the allegations are said to have occurred. But there's something unsavory about plaintiffs attorneys seeking out particular venues hoping to get a trial court advantage over for the defendant they've targeted.
Venue shoppers look for judges and juries predisposed to side with them, regardless of the merits of the case. Also sought are procedural advantages not available in the logical jurisdiction. Then there are those venues that cause the defendant any number of inconveniences such as a distant location with the longer travel time, the expense of lodging, etc.
When Lincoln County school board member Carol Ann Smith decided to file a defamation suit against a Lincoln County newspaper publisher, she and her attorneys, Rudolph DiTrapano and Sean McGinley of Charleston, elected to pursue her claim in Wyoming County, a two-hour drive from the scene of the alleged crime.
The presiding judge in Wyoming Circuit Court was Warren McGraw, whose unsuccessful campaign for the state Supreme Court in 2004 got more than $25,000 in donations from members of DiTrapano's firm and family.
Richie Heath, executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, views this action as a clear case of venue shopping.
"Lawsuits should be filed in the courthouse where a substantial portion of the case is alleged to have occurred," he affirms, "and not where the lawyer filing the suit thinks he'll get the most favorable judge."
Ultimately, McGraw rightfully granted the defendant's request for transfer of the suit to Lincoln County, which is where it belonged in the first place. But why did the defendant have to spend thousands of dollars in legal fees to move the case to where it belonged?