CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Trial Lawyers Association is condemning any attorneys who are soliciting clients in the wake of the disaster at the Sago mine.
"It is unethical and unconscionable for attorneys to prey on these miners' families in their time of grief," said Jeff Jones, president elect of the WVTLA. "Right now those families need answers. Federal and state investigations will need to be completed for everyone to fully understand what occurred at the mine. Those investigations must be completed first."
Jones points out that solicitation is in direct violation of the West Virginia State Bar's Rules of Professional Conduct and the WVTLA's Code of Prohibited Conduct.
"Our association and its members extend our sympathies to the miners' families," Jones said. "We join every West Virginian who grieves with you. You are in our thoughts and prayers."
Charleston attorney Tim Bailey was contacted by several national media outlets to discuss mining-related lawsuits because it is one of his practice areas. He said he traveled to Upshur County to make that work easier – not to solicit the families.
He was quoted in the Wall Street Journal discussing how West Virginia workers face a low barrier to bring suit against employers.
"If I were a family member and knowing now about this company's track record, I would be looking for some answers," he told the WSJ.
However, Bailey stressed that he had no contact with the victims' families.
"I do coal mining work, and several of the major networks wanted me to discuss that on the air as a legal analyst," Bailey said. "There were so many of them. Instead of going to different affiliates all over the place for satellite hookups, I just drove to Buckhannon.
"But the families were at the mine. I was at coal prep plant. I went directly to the satellite area. I did my interviews. I drove into town (Buckhannon) once to get something to eat. I went back and finished my interview. Then I drove to the Stonewall Resort to spend the night.
"I never ever contacted a single family member. I have too much respect to do that. I would never directly solicit a client. It's just not worth it.
"I promise you this: If I learned of anyone who would do that, I would be the first one down at the ethics board. That means out-of-state attorneys, too."
Beth White, executive director of the WVTLA, said she had been told some out-of-state attorneys were doing just that.
"This is not the time to do that," White said. "We will work with the State Bar to assist them in any way that we can if they do an investigation of that type.
"If you're soliciting right now, you have crossed the line."