CHARLESTON – Legal reform groups are excited about the results of Election Day in West Virginia, even suggesting the state’s “Judicial Hellhole” status might be a thing of the past.
West Virginia has been deemed a judicial hellhole every year since 2002 in an annual report published by the American Tort Reform Foundation. The group, however, was happy to see longtime state Attorney General Darrell McGraw defeated by Republican challenger Patrick Morrisey.
“The hyper-litigious and ethically-challenged McGraw has frequently been criticized in past Judicial Hellholes report, and his overdue removal from office is heartening news for tort reformers everywhere,” ATRF wrote in a post published Nov. 7.
ATRF has taken issue with McGraw’s practice of hiring private attorneys who have contributed to his re-election campaigns to represent the State on a contingency fee in litigation against businesses. It has also criticized his handling of settlement funds, claiming he keeps money from taxpayers to use for his own self-promotion.
West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse executive director Richie Heath, also a critic of McGraw’s, said the change in the AG’s office should mean much needed reform.
“Patrick Morrisey’s election will hopefully result in greater transparency in the Attorney General’s use of outside counsel, as well as the handling of state settlement funds, and send a strong message to job providers that West Virginia is interested in restoring fairness to our Attorney General’s Office,” Heath said.
In the state Supreme Court race, Republican Supreme Court law clerk Allen Loughry defeated trial lawyer Tish Chafin and circuit judge John Yoder to grab the second open spot. Justice Robin Davis won the first spot and is the longest-tenured justice on the court.
“Allen Loughry’s election to the West Virginia Supreme Court is a very encouraging sign that our state’s highest court will continue with its recent years of improvement,” Heath said, adding Loughry is “a fair individual who will help bring some much-needed predictability to our state law.”
Heath said voters were persuaded by Loughry’s message of non-partisanship and added that many pro-legal reform candidates won seats in the state Legislature.
“West Virginia might just be starting to position itself towards finally shedding its ‘Judicial Hellhole’ label,” Heath said.
This year, the state has also opened a business court and implemented a rule that requires the Supreme Court, the state’s only appellate court, to explain why it is rejecting the appeal of a litigant.