Papantonio v. Manchin

By The West Virginia Record | Aug 22, 2008

Gov. Joe Manchin is asking our Supreme Court to hear an appeal.

Florida plaintiff's attorney Mike Papantonio hopes to collect his $135 million fee from the case and he wants the governor to butt out.

As the two square off over one of the largest courtroom verdicts in West Virginia history, taking sides has become something of a no-brainer for those who care about the future of this state.

In one corner is the popularly elected state leader asking a fairly simple question: In a case of such magnitude -- it was one of the largest verdicts in the entire U.S. last year -- doesn't the court need to examine the case closely to be sure that the law was followed?

In the other, there's an out-of-state senior partner at "one of the largest plaintiff's law firms in America," trying to run out the appeals clock so he can grab his giant check and jet home to the Gulf Coast.

Need much time to think about this one?

At issue is whether DuPont, stuck by a Harrison County jury with $300 million-plus in liability over pollution allegations, deserves a high court review of the verdict. Late last month, Governor Manchin submitted a pro-appeal brief with the State Supreme Court, which in the past has taken a scatter-shot, hard-to-comprehend approach to what appeals it allows.

And that's the rub. When a hometown jury in a small county court awards hundreds of millions of dollars in damages against a company, its verdict may be right. But it shouldn't go unchecked and unchallenged. Such an outcome looks more than just bad. It makes West Virginia look like some kind of Banana Republic where justice is on holiday.

That's not good for the residents of this state who need companies that want to build here and bring jobs here.

Manchin simply has asked the state's Supreme Court justices -- all popularly elected and none of whom answer to him -- to review the verdict, just to be sure.

Papantonio and his allies appear to have teamed with out-of-state liberal judicial activists to summarily smear our governor for having the nerve to ask. So far, their crew has succeeded in convincing left-leaning, elitist newspapers such as the New York Times and Washington Post to paint Manchin as some kind of uncaring corporate lackey.

He's not. We salute his willingness to defend West Virginia's interests against self-interested mercenaries, whose efforts could bring discredit to the credibility of our justice system. Remember, if they somehow prevail, those folks won't have to live with the possible consequences of lost jobs and opportunity.

Governors don't get to interpret our laws in the judicial branch. But they do get the megaphone of their office to seek a fair review of the facts.

On pressing state issues of the day, voters expect their governor to lead the way. We think Joe Manchin is doing just that.

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