Not ready for reform

By The West Virginia Record | Jan 4, 2008

When asked what was the biggest problem facing West Virginia's court system, our state judges and magistrates were unanimous.

It isn't them.

For this great moment in over-hyped parochialism, we can thank the latest cover story in the taxpayer-funded West Virginia Public Affairs Reporter, a quarterly journal published by WVU's political science department.

In this edition, liberal WVU professors Richard Brisbin and John Kilwein wonder whether business interests are justified in calling the Mountain State a "judicial hellhole." In 2005, they sent a mail-in survey to state judges, culling results they say make for indisputable evidence bolstering their own predictably partisan conclusion.

Alas, Brisbin and Kilwein say "tort reform" isn't a concern of West Virginia judges and thus shouldn't be a priority of voters. The movement to curb trial lawyer tactics that chase away investment and jobs is built on false perceptions, they argue.

"It is a totally unscientific, self-fulfilling cycle," Kilwein told The Associated Press.

One might conclude that asking judges to assess the system for which they are responsible is a bit unscientific and self-fulfilling itself. But who are we to quarrel with bona fide men of methodology?

Only 52 percent of our state judges responded to the survey. Not surprisingly, they were less than self-incriminating.

The concern that the plaintiff's bar is running run roughshod over West Virginia courts didn't register in the survey as a pressing issue. Neither did judges allowing frivolous lawsuits to needlessly proceed, driving up legal costs to businesses big and small. Brisbin and Kilwein say the judges didn't even mention it.

The judges didn't say that the Third Branch was perfect, mind you. They may not be worried about how lawsuit abuse dampens our state's economic growth, but they do see a pressing need for reform in other areas.

According to the survey, judges urgently want to raise their own salaries (circuit judges make $116,000 per year) while simultaneously curbing judicial accountability to voters, replacing judicial elections with some kind of appointment process.

And you thought only ivory tower academics were so delusional.

Coming this spring in the Public Affairs Reporter: a WVU poll of AG Darrell McGraw's employees finds a majority believes their office isn't to blame for blowing that multi-million dollar hole in our state budget. And a university study of Coach Rich Rodriguez' close friends and family members concludes he was totally justified in making the jump from Morgantown to Ann Arbor.

Don't miss it.

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