By STEVE COHEN

CHARLESTON -- Hearing of baseball teams breaking training camp this spring brings some nostalgia of the game's glory years.

Take Dave Kingman, for example. The 16-year veteran who played for more than a half-dozen teams was a pitcher's nightmare with his terrorizing .478 slugging percentage. But lore has it that an opposing manager, having watched Kingman blast a 440-foot homer early one game, wasn't about to suffer such an indignity again.

At Kingman's next at-bat a reliever was summoned from the bullpen and, sure enough, it was a brilliant defensive strategy. The four-bagger Kingman hit off the fresh arm on the mound was only 415 feet.

Al Karlin may have had this in mind at a March 9 panel discussion broadcast statewide from West Virginia's capital about the state's legal climate. This head of West Virginia's personal injury lawyers group was steadfastly stating that our legal landscape is in no way a barrier to jobs, despite study after study to the contrary. One, in U.S. News and World Report as pitchers and catchers were reporting to their Grapefruit and Cactus League outposts, placed West Virginia dead last for growing jobs, citing high legal liability costs as a principal reason.

But Mr. Karlin defied such an assertion that West Virginia's reputation as a land of lawsuits has anything to do with employers choosing to build a work force just about anywhere but here. In fact, he even invited the head of any company to visit him and assured his audience he would persuade them that the Mountain State is a Mecca for prosperity.

Mr. Karlin could point, for example, to a December payout to his personal injury lawyer colleagues from a lawsuit settlement reached in Ohio County of what may well amount to $3,300 an hour. This was a lawsuit, you may recall, that netted a fat share of a $3.9 million legal fee at public expense going to the lawyers Attorney General Darrell McGraw hired for the case -– lawyers who also happened to be his campaign contributors.

But much like the strategy to counter Kingman, such fees could well be in decline. A quintet of personal injury lawyers in another West Virginia courtroom pocketed just $2,700 an hour for their work on a lawsuit despite their outlandish protests that they deserve much more.

Clearly a just-released survey published in Forbes that West Virginia is the most morose of all the states did not include any of the personal injury lawyers who are living large on the lawsuit industry here. And yes, this is the same Forbes that placed West Virginia at the bottom of its ranking the past three years for job-friendly states, pointing to our over-litigiousness.

"West Virginia ranked last in life satisfaction, physical health and emotional health," Forbes explained. Perhaps our leaders in Charleston will make the connection between legal reform and a brighter future. That would really lift West Virginians' spirits over the homerun fence.

Cohen is executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.

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