W.Va. trial lawyers’ campaign donations near $600K

By David Yates | Oct 6, 2014

CHARLESTON – With Election Day just around the corner, West Virginia trial lawyers spending on candidates running for or seeking re-election to the state legislature has neared $600,000.

Last week, West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse announced an update to its “Dirty Dozen” list of candidates who have accepted the most “lawsuit industry money.”

“Millionaire personal injury lawyers have spent nearly $600,000 on their attempt to maintain control of the lawsuits-not-jobs Legislature,” said Greg Thomas, WV CALA's executive director. “West Virginia is not for sale, and we will continue to let hardworking West Virginians know which candidate’s are being bankrolled by personal injury lawyer millionaires.”

On Monday, Anthony Majestro, president of the West Virginia Association for Justice, released a statement saying CALA’s list takes a few facts and twists them in attempt to scare voters into giving up their rights.

“West Virginia voters deserve complete and accurate information about who is donating to legislative candidates, but they are not going to get it from Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse,” said Majestro, the managing partner at Powell & Majestro . “CALA picks and chooses a few facts to scare West Virginia voters into giving up their constitutional rights to our civil courts and trial by jury.”

Majestro believes plaintiff’s attorneys aren’t the ones who are really trying to buy West Virginia elections, accusing special interests of dumping millions into state races to buy seats in the legislature because they want immunity when they risk harm to consumers.

As far as the list goes, state Sen. Rocky Fitzsimmons (Senate District 1), a millionaire personal injury lawyer in Wheeling, continues to rank No. 1 on the “Dirty Dozen” list, with more than $100,000 in contributions from fellow personal injury lawyers.

Staying in second place is state Sen. Mike Romano (S.D. 12). The former president of the state trial lawyers’ organization has accepted more than $44,000 from his fellow personal injury lawyers. Additionally, he loaned his campaign nearly $100,000.

Moving up on the list is Andrew Byrd, a personal injury attorney from Charleston and candidate for the House of Delegates in District 35, collecting more than $12,000 in contributions from attorneys during the recently concluded first general campaign finance period for a total of $20,000.

A majority of the list is made up of incumbents, including personal injury lawyer House Speaker Tim Miley (H.D. 48, $13,000), state Sen. Greg Tucker (S.D. 11, $11,000), state Sen. Larry Edgell (S.D. 2, $10,000), House Judiciary Chairman Tim Manchin (H.D. 50, $9,000), and state Sen. Ron Miller (S.D. 10, $8,000).

Several non-incumbent personal injury lawyer candidates made the list, including Michael Woelfel (S.D. 5, $18,750), Holli Smith (H.D. 3, $19,450), and former delegate and longtime opponent of legal reform, Bobbie Hatfield (H.D. 35, $14,218).

Every candidate who made the list is a Democrat.

LAWPAC, the trial lawyers’ political action committee, has donated more than $160,000 in contributions to legislative candidates across West Virginia.

“It’s also important to note that while the West Virginia Association for Justice LAWPAC has donated more than $160,000 to candidates in the primary and general elections, this is comparable to other political action committees,” said Majestro.

“For example, the campaign finance reporting system shows that the West Virginia Bankers PAC has made more than $180,000 in expenditures. The West Virginia Business and Industry Council’s Moving West Virginia Forward BICPAC received $250,000 from one out-of-state corporate donor. Who’s trying to buy elections?”

The list was compiled based on CALA’s review of state campaign finance records, which became available on Sept. 26.

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