Yearning for climate change

By The West Virginia Record | Oct 13, 2006

Wonder why our business climate is generally in such low regard?

Consider the case of lawyer John Cooper of Barboursville, soon to be pressing the grievance of his client, Virginia forklift operator Bart Morris, before John Roberts, Antonin Scalia and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Morris lives in Virginia. He works in Virginia. He was injured driving a forklift in Virginia. But led by his lawyer, Mr. Cooper, he's dead set on suing his employer in West Virginia.

The Virginian went shopping with his lawsuit to Charleston, and West Virginia's highest court helped him push the cart. They rolled out the red carpet -- or so goes the rub.

In our struggle to attract investment and better-paying jobs, this isn't the kind of national attention the Mountain State wants nor needs.

Filed in Kanawha County back in 2004, Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman tossed Morris' case because its filing violated state law. Out-of-staters aren't allowed to use West Virginia courts willy-nilly -- their suits are forbidden "unless all or a substantial part of the acts or omissions giving rise to the claim asserted occurred in this state."

That's our state -- West Virginia. We're the ones paying for our courts -- courts that already have some 30,000 pending cases before them. We wouldn't subsidize a Californian's tuition to WVU, so why offer out-of-staters gratis access to our justice system when they can use their own for free? Sounds like common sense to us.

Of course, if common sense reigned, Morris simply would have filed his lawsuit in Virginia in the first place. Staying close to home surely would have sped up the process. It's been nearly three years now since the Morris saga began and, headed to our nation's highest court, we're just getting started.

What's so worth the wait?

Call it our "brand" of justice. Clearly, Cooper and Morris believe they'll get a more favorable settlement or verdict here in the Mountain State than they would back across the border. Most frightening of all is the length to which our most esteemed justices seem prepared to go to help them get it.

There's no argument here -- West Virginia's lawsuit climate is among the best in the county.

That's for the lawyers. For guys like John Cooper, there's no place you'd rather be.

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