Manchin stands up

By The West Virginia Record | Jul 19, 2008

Plaintiff's lawyers are outraged.

But West Virginians should be proud that Gov. Joe Manchin is asking pointed questions before our state's highest court. He's acting on behalf of the rest of us, and out of grave concern that the court's perceived obstinacy is making the state's shaky economy even more investment-repellent.

Manchin recently filed an amicus brief with the state Supreme Court on behalf of industrial giant DuPont, ordered to pay an outrageous $196 million by a Harrison County jury last November. Rather than waiting to see what action the court might take, the governor asked: do the Lords of the Mountain State's High Court plan to grant DuPont an appeal?

DuPont has asked for one, arguing it didn't get a fair trial. In a case with such a massive verdict, most state appellate courts would at least hear it out. But in West Virginia as we know, due process shouldn't be taken for granted.

"This court has concluded that its obligation to conduct a meaningful and adequate appellate review of a punitive damages award is satisfied through the mere consideration (and rejection) of a petition for appeal," Manchin wrote. "This practice appears to place this (court) in conflict with the mandates of the U.S. Supreme Court."

Gov. Manchin is referring to the recent Chesapeake Energy debacle. Back in May, the company was denied the opportunity to appeal a $400 million Roane County verdict. It responded by canceling plans to build a $35 million regional headquarters in Charleston and went on to give state leaders a tongue-lashing.

"We do believe it sends a profoundly negative message about the business climate in the state," said a Chesapeake executive. "The reality of this decision is that nobody in West Virginia, similarly situated, has a guaranteed right of appeal in the judicial system."

Coming from the largest company to set its investment sights on West Virginia in years, such outraged sentiment wasn't what Manchin wanted to hear.

It's hard enough to tell companies you're "Open for Business" with a state justice system that is hostile. It's impossible to do with one closed to legitimate appeals.

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