By STEVE COHEN
CHARLESTON -- It's that time of year again. There's the crack of the bat, the smack of the baseball in leather at Major League spring training camps, where branches of palm tress ever so gently sway, a filter for the comforting rays of sun. It is as sure a sign of spring as adjournment of the West Virginia Legislature.
In fact, the timing is perfect for Mountain State lawmakers to field a Mudville 9 during these chilly weeks up north which foreshadow Opening Day.
Imagine the starting lineup cast from West Virginia's capitol corridors. The diamond will be studded with such "Dirty Dozen" superstars as Speaker Rick Thompson and House Majority Leader Joe DeLong, both among the 12 leading takers of campaign cash last season from the lawsuit industry.
On deck, House Majority Whip Mike Caputo and Education Committee Chair Mary Poling, each of whom pocketed at least $5,000 from personal injury lawyers for their 2006 campaigns.
Fresh from the bullpen is rookie House Judiciary chair Carrie Webster, whose campaign coffers last year included $3,000 from personal injury lawyers.
House Government Organization Committee chair Jim Morgan carries a big stick himself, having rounded the bases to fetch checks from personal injury lawyers Scott Segal and Marvin Masters, a double-play combo who stand to collect tens of millions of dollars each from the Roane County verdict collapsing the Chesapeake Energy franchise, with 250 jobs and a $20 million annual payroll for West Virginia.
Can this team win a pennant for its home state? Will it score for West Virginia taxpayers with a venue reform bill that truly protects them from lawsuits filed by personal injury lawyers who squeeze-play our courthouses with their out-of-state plaintiffs?
Is there enough bench strength to keep junk science out of our courts, such as the "medical evidence" personal injury lawyers hurled at a West Virginia judge from a team physician for whom no trading card can be found? He doesn't exist!
Dugout chatter is that fans understandably have no confidence in Attorney General Darrell McGraw, who picks off millions of dollars in lawsuit settlements to convert to a political slush fund. Voters are sure to relegate him to the disabled list if free agency doesn't claim him first. Even the Sporting News has been ditched in the clubhouse for the Wall Street Journal after Darrell was lumped into a group of AGs the newspaper said is an "unchecked source of government abuse."
West Virginia oddsmakers are hopeful this team will score a grand slam to fix the state's broken lawsuit system. But a look at the stats easily leads one to conclude they will strike out for reform. Unfortunately, this team is in a league of its own.
Cohen is executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.