CHARLESTON -- A state legal reform group is citing a recent report showing West Virginia last nationwide in job creation as another reason legislators should try to fix the state's "broken lawsuit system."
A report earlier this month in U.S. News and World Report concluded West Virginia –- based on, among other factors, legal costs measured by the Small Business Liability Index -- is the worst state in the nation for job creation.
"Must it take an iron skillet to the heads of our leaders in Charleston to realize that jobs flow to those states with a legal infrastructure based on integrity," West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse Executive Director Steve Cohen said. "As long as West Virginia has politics in its courts and pay-to-play deals in the attorney general's office, it will remain the national laggard for job growth."
The findings on which the U.S. News analysis is based conclude that West Virginia "ranks last in the number of entrepreneurs starting new businesses" and that "it consistently ranks as one of states with the lowest per capita income."
U.S. News says, "West Virginia has not been known for economic prosperity in recent decades" and asks "what factors does the state have that would hurt your chances of being successful or even getting your business off the ground?"
The U.S. News report, Cohen notes, is consistent with recent studies published in Forbes magazine and prepared by the American Legislative Exchange Council, the American Tort Reform Foundation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform and other groups. (Note: The West Virginia is owned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform.)
Cohen went on to note that West Virginia "had the nation's worst legal liability score in the study" and points to a National Law Journal finding that three of the seven largest verdicts in the entire U.S. in 2007 were delivered in West Virginia courtrooms.
"The legal landscape here is a barrier to jobs, no question about it," Cohen said. "This new data, as the new legislative session begins, should serve as a resounding wake-up call for reform."
Cohen said WV CALA is urging Gov. Joe Manchin to propose:
* non-partisan judicial elections to promote impartiality in court rulings; and
* a "Sunshine Law" to prevent Attorney General Darrell McGraw from seemingly rewarding campaign contributors with no-bid contracts.
"Studies have shown that states with partisan court elections have higher liability costs and rank among the states with the most challenged economies," Cohen said. "And the pay-to-play scandals in the offices of Governors (Rod) Blagojevich (in Illinois) and Bill Richardson (in New Mexico) mirror the practices of West Virginia's Darrell McGraw."
WV CALA also urges tighter reins on how the attorney general spends lawsuit settlement dollars.