Those of us who believe our courts are intended to dispense justice, not settle personal scores, are routinely underwhelmed by the rhetoric of our State Supreme Court's Larry Starcher.
Starcher, a justice on West Virginia's highest court since 1996, has become best known by barristers, reporters and casual courthouse onlookers not for his carefully reasoned legal arguments or his temperament but, rather, for the ax he relentlessly grinds from the bench.
His targets -- businesses, executives, Republicans -- are so predictable because Starcher is so fond of accentuating his aim with his mouth. Like this fresh zinger from his dissent in a July 19 opinion that favored Farmers and Mechanics Mutual Insurance:
"The insurance industry wants to grind plaintiffs down and force them to settle their claims for pennies on the dollar," complained Starcher. "For asking insurance companies to behave reasonably, West Virginia is now routinely called a 'judicial hellhole' with 'the worst legal system in America' by various anti-consumer lobbying organizations."
Logic? Rationale? Facts? There's little room when the page is so overflowing with pent-up angst and raw emotion.
In the Farmers case, Starcher was advocating behalf of two cogs in a Braxton County love triangle that turned violent. Once squaring off as plaintiff and defendant, they opted to instead collude against the latter's deep-pocketed insurance company. A lower court rebuffed their scheme, which promised a $1 million plus payday.
State Supreme Court Chief Justice Robin Davis, no pro-business zealot, had apparently read enough of Starcher's fulminating this time, noting in her majority opinion that "absolutely none of the fifteen string-cited cases" in his brief were relevant to the matter in question.
But precedent never reads like hysterics.
"Without a doubt, the opinion will go down in history as one of the most anti-consumer, anti-contract, pro-insurance company cases ever issued by this Court," Starcher concluded.
Starcher's legal briefs truly read like candidate press releases and position papers, or class warfare ditties from the Gazette editorial page. They're crafted without restraint, or even a feigned nod to the concept that their author -- a trusted, elected arbiter of truth -- could possibly be objective.
And that's the point. Starcher's entitled to his opinion. But if he wants to express it so, he should become a newspaper columnist and spare West Virginia his tenure as a sitting judge.