CHARLESTON – A state group of trial lawyers has issued a challenge to a legal reform group to stage a series of statewide public forums on West Virginia’s civil justice system.

The West Virginia Association for Justice on Feb. 5 issued the formal challenge to West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.

Beth White, executive director of the WVAJ, said her group would work with WV CALA to schedule at least five events throughout the state.

White said the two groups long have expressed their thoughts about West Virginia courts independently.

“But that’s not the most effective way to do this,” she said. “CALA should join WVAJ and present our information to the ultimate jury — the people of West Virginia.”

WV CALA responded, via e-mail to The West Virginia Record, with a statement saying the voters of West Virginia – the “ultimate jury” – already have heard the debate and made their feelings known.

“They support lawsuit reforms that would guarantee a jury trial, make our courts fair and impartial and help create more jobs,” WV CALA Executive Director Roman Stauffer said. “We appreciate that the personal injury lawyers want to talk about our out-of-step legal system and how it prevents our state from attracting much needed jobs.

“We strongly believe the ‘ultimate jury,’ the voters, heard plenty of debate and spoke very clear and loudly on the need for lawsuit reforms last November. The people of West Virginia elected candidates all across West Virginia of both political parties who support lawsuit reforms, such as those that are currently making their way through the Legislature.”

Following WV CALA's response, White said the group "cannot point to the results of the 2014 election" as proof that West Virginians support its position on our civil courts.

"Only 37 percent of West Virginians even went to the polls in November," White said. "You can’t point to 37 percent and declare that you have a mandate for anything.

“If the facts are on CALA’s side, why limit the debate to a single 10 minute radio interview?  Why can’t it participate in public forums?  Why is CALA afraid to move beyond its closed-door ‘roundtables,’ where it controls the audience, and paid advertising?  Maybe CALA’s refusal to debate these issues is proof that it doesn’t have real facts to support them.

“WVAJ stands by its challenge and asks CALA to join us for these public forums.  If CALA’s assertions that its claims are accurate and West Virginians already support its positions, then it should welcome the opportunity to debate us publicly.  If you’re right, there’s nothing to fear.”

White said there is a lot of misinformation and half-truths about West Virginia courts.

“WVAJ does not deal in propaganda,” she said. “If CALA accepts our challenge, both sides need to stick to the facts. Information should come from verifiable, third-party sources. Let’s present the hard evidence to the people and let them decide.”

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