High Court kudos

by The West Virginia Record |
Oct. 3, 2008, 5:53am

DuPont will have its day in West Virginia's highest court.

That's good news not just for the company, hit in February with an astounding $381 million verdict by a Harrison Circuit Court, but also for the people of West Virginia.

Our Supreme Court exists primarily to review important, game-changing court decisions. This one, which financially pummels one of the state's largest employers while simultaneously granting a group of Florida plaintiff's attorneys a reported $135 million in fees, surely qualifies.

After months of public lobbying and speculation, the court officially accepted DuPont's appeal last week. Common sense says accepting such a case for review is a no-brainer. But it was hardly a sure thing, given the justices' previous decisions not to hear other high-profile, big-dollar appeals of similarly stunning West Virginia circuit court awards.

That included Massey Energy's appeal of a $220 million Brooke County verdict against it, and Chesapeake Energy's appeal of a $404 million Roane County verdict.

The latter decision led Chesapeake, one of the largest energy companies in the United States, to abandon its plans to expand in Charleston. Its executives said it couldn't justify the investment given the potential legal risk.

Given that Justice Robin Davis is married to Scott Segal, the plaintiff's lawyer who sued them, it's easy to imagine why they'd be worried.

Davis recused herself from all related discussions of the Chesapeake case. But when it came to DuPont, she was the only vote against the court accepting its appeal.

She's not required to offer a reason. That doesn't mean we cannot ask her why. Maybe someone will manage someday to elicit some specifics from the justice about her rationale.

In the meantime, those of us who favor spirited discourse and vigorous examination of the law should savor the grant of review.

We hope to see this inane verdict overturned and those Florida trial lawyers sent packing. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Today, a wronged defendant in our opinion has gained the right to argue its case.

For the moment, we all might remain satisfied.

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