CHARLESTON -- The West Virginia Trial Lawyers Association has a new name.
On May 4, the group announced it has changed its name to the West Virginia Association for Justice. Last year, the organization's national group -- the Association of Trial Lawyers of America -- changed its name to the American Association for Justice.
The recommendation was made that the state association adopt the national change, and that recommendation was approved by the organization's members.
"As trial lawyers, we are advocates of justice who help West Virginians exercise their Constitutional rights in our state and federal courtrooms -- even when taking on the most powerful interests," Jeff Jones, president of West Virginia Association for Justice, said. "Every day we seek justice in our courts for those who have been harmed by the conduct and negligence of others.
"The mission of this organization is to fight for justice on behalf of our members' clients and all West Virginians -- both in our courts and at the Statehouse, where there is an unprecedented attack on the Seventh Amendment right to trial by jury led by billion-dollar corporate special interests who want total immunity when they produce dangerous products, put workers in unsafe working conditions, break contracts with our businesses or cheat royalty owners our of their fair royalty payments."
"Our previous name, the West Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, just described who we are. Our new name, West Virginia Association for Justice, is about what we do."
Steve Cohen, executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, said the name change means nothing to his group.
"Unfortunately, a name change by the lawsuit industry will not keep West Virginia from being a dumping ground for personal in jury lawyers and their out-of-state plaintiffs," Cohen said. "It will not keep junk science out of our courts. It will not keep Attorney General Darrell McGraw from hiring campaign-contributing personal injury lawyer pals to share in multi-million dollar legal fees paid from public funds.
"Without reform of the system, West Virginia families will continue to lose out."
Jones responded, saying Cohen "is making things up and twisting the facts to suit the people who sign his paychecks."
"Our Legislature unanimously passed a good venue reform bill that limits the number of out-of-state plaintiffs who can file lawsuits here, while giving preference to West Virginia citizens and
businesses who file suits in state courts," Jones said. "So-called 'junk science' isn't allowed in our courtrooms -- it is prohibited both by law and by the Bar's Rules of Professional Conduct. And if questionable evidence is ever presented in a West Virginia courtroom, its veracity can be challenged by the judge, opposing counsel and even the jury as they deliberate on the verdict.
"As for Attorney General McGraw, there is no question that over the years he has hired some of West Virginia's best attorneys to represent the interests of this state's residents. Attorneys general in most states have to hire outside counsel from time to time. If Mr. Cohen is really so concerned about what he claims are 'secret deals,' then why doesn't he release to the media a comprehensive list of who is really funding CALA. If he has nothing to hide, then there should be no trouble telling West Virginians where his money is really coming from.
"Steve Cohen and the out-of-state big money special interests that he represents are trying to change West Virginia laws in order to make corporations immune from their actions. We believe that corporations and individuals who harm others should be held accountable."
In response, Cohen said WV CALA "is a grassroots group with more than 30,000 members across West Virginia who see our broken lawsuit system as a barrier to creating jobs across the state."