West Virginia Record

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Courts aren't a cash register

By The West Virginia Record | Oct 6, 2006

Lawsuits should be used to resolve disputes, not invent them.

We don't have to sell Hurricane internist Dr. Rick Houdersheldt on the concept. He was in circuit court last week asking for an order of protection, charging plaintiff's lawyers with harassing him over his deposition in one of the trove of lawsuits filed over Dr. John King and Putnam General Hospital.

Dr. Hourdersheldt testified that some of his patients told him that they had been solicited by representatives of Curry & Tolliver, a plaintiff's firm in Charleston. The firm allegedly offered to pay one of them $10,000 to help it file lawsuits against King and Putnam General.

Lawyers soliciting clients in such a way is more than illegal and unethical. It's also plain devastating to the integrity of West Virginia's justice system.

Lawsuits are supposed to be a recourse of last resort. They bestow upon lawyers special powers and rights, all with the intention of providing a means of access to our courts for truly aggrieved plaintiffs, not litigative weaponry to be lucratively wielded by warriors brandishing law degrees.

Our bottom line: lawsuits should be initiated by plaintiffs, not lawyers.

The collateral damage of such behavior is spelled out in a new statewide ad campaign by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform (ILR), the parent of this newspaper. "Faces" includes interviews with West Virginia business owners assaulted by frivolous lawsuits -- the kind Dr. Hourdersheldt warned us about, originated by lawyers and only carried by a plaintiff pawns.

That plaintiff solicitation that today is the norm in West Virginia -- we even saw some of it at Sago -- puts Mountain State "creators" at perpetual odds with its courts. We mean the creators of businesses and of jobs and of health care, the investors of capital and the engines of our state's economic growth. They're the custodians of tomorrow for the communities we know and love -- and they're all an invented lawsuit away from financial ruin.

The onus here is on lawyers to police their own profession and judges to police their courtrooms. West Virginia plaintiffs should be seeking actual justice, not a quick payoff for lending their name to a complaint.

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