A bad case of neighbor envy

By The West Virginia Record | May 11, 2006

Steve Cohen


So much has changed here and abroad since our 55 mountain counties seceded from the Old Dominion back in the Civil War. But a recently-published economic study of the states, using 2005 data, could well leave one wondering about the comparison of the two Virginias today.

The report, which appeared in USA Today, characterized West Virginia's "overall economy" as "weak," punctuating its analysis with a far too familiar observation: "Young people are leaving."

In the report, an adjoining region of our neighbor, Virginia, is listed as "first in the nation in job creation." Our next door neighbor! We are attached at the border yet so far apart on the economic spectrum.

Why the disparity? Just a few weeks ago a world-renowned research organization, Harris Interactive, conducted a survey to discover which states' legal climates were most favorable for creating jobs. Virginia ranks third in the U.S. on the survey. West Virginia is dead last.

Is there something to this correlation? Virginia, a leader in the nation for creating jobs, is also a national leader for a having a fair legal system. West Virginia's "overall economy" termed "weak" while at the very bottom of the rankings for a legal climate where job growth is likely.

In truth, West Virginia is especially attractive to employers. Real estate is relatively inexpensive. The interstate highway system serves us well. We have many colleges and universities to educate and train a workforce. Then why is West Virginia, as the report in USA Today describes, "creating jobs at a slower pace than the nation?"

Just by following the news emanating from the Mountain State, red flags are vigorously flapping.

There was recent coverage of a lemon law lawsuit in which a jury awarded the plaintiff $6,950. But the lawyer asked the judge to be reimbursed for his legal fees, which, when submitted, totaled more than $143,000. Sure thing, said the judge. Paying you 20 times what your client got is perfectly appropriate.

Employers are also well aware of West Virginia's reputation for its "No Proof? No Problem!" legal standard where a lawsuit can be filed without any actual evidence of an injury.

Employers know that, in West Virginia, a defendant only partially responsible for an injury can be help 100 percent liable.

Employers see in its Attorney General, Darrell McGraw, an out-of-control public official. He has, essentially, converted public money from a $10 million lawsuit settlement into a political slush fund. He seems to reward campaign contributors with lucrative legal fees. He spends hundreds of thousands from his office in shameless self-promotion.

No wonder employers are shy about creating jobs in a state with such judicial insanity. But bold legal reform can help reverse the longstanding migration of young West Virginians. Then, the comparison of the two Virginias will not seem so vastly different.

Cohen is executive Director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (WV CALA), a nonprofit citizen watchdog group interested in a variety of civil justice issues. Persons wanting more information can visit www.WVJusticeWatch.org or write to P.O. Box 127, Charleston, WV 25321.

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