Workman allowed to wear judicial robe

By John O'Brien | Jun 8, 2006

Margaret Workman

CHARLESTON - When her attire was questioned, former state Supreme Court Justice Margaret Workman probably wondered if her black judge's robe had a giant red-and-white bull's-eye on the back.

Now, though, the Charleston attorney thinks she knows why she was targeted by Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse for wearing a judicial robe during an advertisement for her private practice.

"Interestingly enough, I checked and most former justices and judges who are now lawyers do advertise in one fashion or another that they are a former judge," Workman said. "CALA doesn't complain about any of them. I think it's because I'm not serving big corporations and things of that nature. I'm dealing with personal injury situations."

The State Bar recently decided against CALA's February 2005 claim against Workman that she had violated the Rules of Professional Conduct by appearing in a 2005 television ad wearing her judicial robe.

In the ad, Workman was shown in the robe while a voiceover stated, "This is Margaret Workman. As a former Supreme Court Justice, I want to help people who have been hurt by dangerous drugs."

Steve Cohen, Executive Director of CALA, was not happy with what he saw.

"The TV and radio airwaves are filled with outrageous ads from personal injury lawyers which cross the line with blatant exaggeration, scaring consumers into thinking they have been harmed when, in fact, they have not, and promising cash payouts for personal misfortunes no one else caused," Cohen said in a statement.

Reminding potential clients of her past, which includes being the first woman to ever become a state Supreme Court Justice and elected statewide official, was a given, Workman says. She reasons that she was trying to attract clients.

CALA, though, argued that she was trying to use her former position to convince potential clients that she had more sway with judges around the state.

The State Bar did add that it "looks upon with great disfavor the use of judicial robes in the aforesaid advertisement and would discourage said use in future advertisements."

The Bar's findings also said, "There were no assertions made in the commercial about providing certain results for prospective clients such as verdict amounts or other judgments, and the fact (Workman) is a 'former Supreme Court Justice' does not imply (Workman) would get more favorable judgments for her clients nor imply that she is a specialist."

Workman says she doesn't think the ads made that much difference in the eyes of the public and has a hard time seeing why the issue has become so large.

"The U.S. Supreme Court says lawyers have a right to state their qualifications," she said. "I served as a judge for 18 years, and I think that makes me a highly qualified lawyer. And the Bar agreed that nothing was wrong with me saying that I'm a former judge."

CALA's problem with advertisements run by personal injury lawyers, according to Cohen's statement, stems from the hyperbole used to rile the emotions of potential clients. He adds that a recent survey, which was conducted by CALA, found that 77 percent of West Virginians say personal injury lawyer advertising encourages them to sue even if they have not been injured.

Workman says she tried to keep her ad "dignified."

"I didn't promise results," she added. "I didn't call myself a 'heavy-hitter' or anything."

Though she was hit with the complaint anyway. She cited examples like John McCuskey and Lyne Ranson, former judges now in private practice who make no secret of their judicial past. Ranson works with family-related issues like divorce, while McCuskey's practice focuses on areas like state and municipal government matters and business torts.

"I think that demonstrates that they (CALA) really don't care if you say you're a former judge as much as they just want to harass lawyers representing average people," Workman said.

"I thought CALA was against frivolous claims. They filed one of their own."

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