CHARLESTON –- While debates over stricter federal coal mining regulations and national health care reform have been at the forefront of state news reports in recent weeks, a statewide group wants to remind West Virginians about the ongoing problems in the state's courts and the importance of much-needed legal reforms.

West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse says Lawsuit Abuse Awareness Week, which runs from Oct. 18 to Oct. 24, is an opportunity to review how West Virginia's courts are working and take a step back and see what can be done to improve them. Leaders of the non-profit group are urging citizens to take an active role in improving the state's legal system.

"Reform of our state legal system is essential for future economic growth," WV CALA Executive Director Richie Heath said. "For years now, our legal climate has ranked as the worst in the nation. Our reputation for lawsuit abuse has had a direct impact on our ability to attract well-paying jobs to the state.

"Moreover, our failure to compete with neighboring states has contributed to slower economic growth, and consequently lower household incomes for West Virginia families."

As one example of problems facing West Virginia's legal system, Heath cites the state's loose venue requirements meaning where lawsuits can be filed.

"In fact, only two of 900 recently filed asbestos claims involved West Virginia plaintiffs," Heath said.

He also noted a lack of an automatic right of appeal, which has played a part in the departure of hundreds of state jobs.

WV CALA also notes that allegations of fraudulent asbestos filings and the current method of judicial selection also affect the state's economic plight.

"WV CALA hopes that Lawsuit Abuse Awareness Week serves as a reminder to state residents of the problems that still exist with our legal system," Heath said.

Heath also commented on the recent work of Gov. Joe Manchin's Independent Commission on Judicial Reform.

"West Virginians now have the perfect opportunity to have their voices heard on important judicial reform issues," he said. "WV CALA hopes citizens will take the time to submit their own comments and suggestions to the judicial reform commission."

To learn more about the Commission's efforts, and submit their own ideas for reforming West Virginia's state courts, visit www.judicialreform.wv.gov.

For more informaton about WV CALA and about lawsuit abuse issues, visit www.wvcala.com.

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