CHARLESTON – A new leopard-themed campaign meant to highlight the motives behind the recent name change of the state trial lawyers organization has resulted in a catfight.

The Web site criticizes the West Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, now calling itself the West Virginia Association for Justice, for trying to conceal its identity from the public by changing its name. The campaign, created by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform, targets West Virginia and at least 10 other states that have seen similar efforts.

"West Virginia's trial lawyers have apparently signed onto a national campaign of concealment conducted by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, who renamed themselves the American Association for Justice last year," ILR President Lisa A. Rickard said in a press release. "Because decades of abusing the civil justice system has driven their popularity into the ground, they are resorting to the oldest PR trick in the book: when your brand is tarnished, change your name."

The West Virginia Record is owned by the U.S. Chamber.

ILR is running a public awareness campaign in West Virginia and other states where the state trial lawyer associations have recently voted to change their names. As more states follow suit, ILR likely will expand its public awareness campaign.

"We doubt the people of West Virginia will be fooled by a misleading name change – a leopard with new spots is still a leopard, and trial lawyers' reputations will remain tarnished until they stop abusing the system," said Rickard.

The new president of the West Virginia Association for Justice, however, says the Chamber's campaign is just more of the same.

"This ludicrous claim is just another attempt by billion-dollar corporate interests to divert attention away from the truth -- and that truth is that they want to increase corporate profits at the expense of West Virginia residents and businesses," Wheeling attorney Teresa Toriseva said. "They want total immunity when they produce dangerous products, put employees into unsafe working conditions and break contracts with West Virginia businesses.

"They are willing to say or do anything to advance this political agenda -- even if that means lying and misleading West Virginians to do it."

Toriseva said her group is not trying to hide behind a new name or shy away from the fact that they are trial lawyers.

"It is ridiculous that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is trying to claim that West Virginia trial lawyers are trying to hide behind a new name when even The West Virginia Record – a newspaper funded by the U.S. Chamber – did a story when we announced the change months ago. Are (U.S. Chamber President) Tom Donohue and the billion-dollar corporate special interests he represents not even bothering to read the newspaper they are funding?

"We are proud to be trial lawyers, and we have made no effort to hide that fact. All of the materials that we have issued since the name change was announced clearly states that the West Virginia Association for Justice was formerly the West Virginia Trial Lawyers Association. To say that we have done otherwise is an outright lie."

Another group criticizing the name change is West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.

"Changing the name of the personal injury bar in West Virginia is like putting lipstick on a pig," WV CALA Executive Director Steve Cohen said. "It can't hide the greed of the lawsuit industry in this state."

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