By STEVE COHEN
CHARLESTON -- Before we know it, we will be riveted on the annual celebration of the motion picture industry's best work, at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood on Feb. 24.
As is the custom with West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, we again this year nominate the top films which draw attention to our state's broken legal system.
Let's look at some of the nominees this year:
* The Savages –- A portrayal of the lawsuit industry in West Virginia, starring personal injury lawyer Timothy Houston and his $10 million shakedown over a slice of cheese allegedly served on a drive-thru hamburger.
Four Oscar-worthy films this year have been released about the scandal in Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office:
* No Country for Old Men -– (And in West Virginia, old women too). Darrell McGraw's conversion of lawsuit settlement dollars into, what is essentially his own political slush fund, has jeopardized more than $4 million in federal Medicaid funds for our state's seniors. After all West Virginia leads the nation in the number of residents over age 65.
* Lady Chatterly –- An incisive profile of McGraw chief deputy Fran Hughes, who last February told the legislature that her boss would cease his "controversial practice" (her words) of doling out lawsuit settlement dollars to his pet projects. Within a month McGraw showered another million dollars from lawsuit settlements -– money that is not his - to even more groups across the state.
* Breach -– McGraw's violation of his fiduciary duty to his three plaintiffs in the PurduePharma case. Not only did McGraw not consult his state agency-clients, he kept the money for himself after he settled the case!
* The Brave One –- The acclaimed biography of West Virginia Senate Health and Human Resources chairman Roman Prezioso, who boldly proclaimed McGraw overstepped his authority by distributing lawsuit settlement dollars that did not belong to him.
Some other likely runaway winners after the red carpet parade:
* The Great Debaters -– The true-life drama about how the West Virginia Legislature approaches abuse of the state's courts. As one film critic summed it up, "an accurate account of how when all is said and done more is said than done."
* Superbad -– a straight-forward look at lawsuit mills in West Virginia, like the one in which personal injury lawyers pay a Bridgeport radiologist nearly $10 million to perform mass screenings of patients, many of whom allegedly were never seen by a doctor.
* "Gone Baby Gone" and "Into the Wild" -– Both films vividly depict the out-migration of West Virginia families which cannot find jobs because employers are reluctant to create them in a state with a legal climate widely regarded as unfriendly to business.
* Atonement -– to the personal injury bar an inconvenient truth, but to visionary West Virginians, a candid portrayal of what the politicians in Charleston can do make the state's judiciary fair.
Cohen is executive director of WV CALA, which can be found online at www.WVJusticeWatch.org.