By STEVE COHEN
CHARLESTON – The Academy Awards are approaching, and it's time for the 2009 list of award-nominated motion pictures with titles illustrating West Virginia's broken lawsuit system.
This year's list, presented annually by West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, is timed to coincide with public anticipation of the 81st Oscars on Feb. 22.
The notoriety of West Virginia's civil justice climate makes this an especially active year for finding Hollywood productions that merit inclusion in our competition. Our nominations put the case for legal reform on the big screen for leaders in our capital to clearly see.
A top contender this year is "Tell No One," that might have been adopted from three screenplays.
One is about Delegate Carrie Webster's bill to conceal how much personal injury lawyers are suing for -– after the public outrage over a $10 million lawsuit against a Morgantown eatery for allegedly serving a hamburger with an unwanted slice of cheese on it.
Another is a Webster bill to silence critics of the attorney general, her husband's boss.
A third references Attorney General Darrell McGraw's procedure for hiding from the public the details of his hiring campaign contributors to no-bid state contracts.
"Doubt," as well, might reference two local screenplays.
One, the public reaction to Attorney General McGraw's reckless spending of lawsuit settlement dollars that the feds say should be Medicaid funds for West Virginia's neediest.
The other "Doubt" is a local court's reaction to personal injury lawyers who submitted "medical evidence" from a doctor who does not exist.
Other nominees from WV CALA are:
* "Defiance" –- the cinematic masterpiece capturing Darrell McGraw' figurative middle finger in the face of House and Senate Finance Committee members last year when questioned about why he does not turn lawsuit settlement dollars over to the state treasury.
* "Milk" –- about McGraw cronies who "milk" the system with lavish legal fees at public expense, seemingly their reward for bankrolling the McGraw political election machine.
* "Four Christmases" -- the celebration of the four McGraw-hired law firms representing the state in Judge Ronald Wilson's courtroom who ended up taking $3.9 million in fees to the bank during the holidays.
* "Yonkers Joe" -- a darling of the New York personal injury bar finds jackpot justice in West Virginia even though his lawsuits have nothing to do with the Mountain State
* "The Edge of Heaven" -- a story about the "almost heaven" state's out-of-the-mainstream "No Proof? No Problem!" medical monitoring standard that invites lawsuits by people having no evidence of actual injury.
* "The Class" -- a dreary docudrama staring Ray Harron, the West Virginia radiologist paid close to $10 million by personal injury lawyers in a renowned lawsuit mill that lumped together tens of thousands of supposed claimants.
* "Happy Go Lucky" -- about the small clique of personal injury lawyers who pocketed $135 million in a lawsuit that netted their clients, at best, $9,000.
* "I've Loved You So Long" -- the musical depicting the lawsuit industry's love of West Virginia's broken legal system, based on the National Law Journal's showing that three of the seven largest verdicts in the entire U.S. over the past year were delivered in West Virginia courtrooms.
* "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" -- adapted from the chronicle of Justice Brent Benjamin voting on the bench in numerous cases against Massey Energy to the tune of $300 million. But curiosity persists over why the media is fixated on one case where he voted in its favor on a $50 million case.
* "Flight of the Red Balloon" -- depicts Chesapeake Energy's natural gas-filled exodus from West Virginia after being saddled with a $405 million verdict loaded with outrageous punitive damages.
* "The Day the Earth Stood Still" -- documents West Virginia's abandonment of it's much-ballyhooed "Open for Business" slogan, when "Land of Lawsuits" would be more appropriate.
* "Bolt" -- whose title suggests, captures the estimated 16,000 West Virginia jobs lost because of the state's legal climate.
* "Revolutionary Road" -- an uplifting account of a governor who proposes his state take politics out of the judiciary with a switch to non-partisan election of judges.
This could be a morose season for moviegoers," but we hope the stories of West Virginia's legal horrors can be reduced to a picture called "Bedtime Stories."
Effectively putting lawsuit abuse to bed would be a great help to our state in getting us out of a long depressed economy, especially now when we need to be highly competitive with other states for jobs.
Cohen is executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.