THEIR VIEW: Business development will require legal reform

By The West Virginia Record | Jul 29, 2010

CHARLESTON -- With the recent passing of Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia lost not only the longest-serving Senator in U.S. history, but also its pipeline to billions of dollars in federal funding that has kept the state afloat for years. This underscores the fact that the Mountain State must now learn to fend for itself.

By RICHIE HEATH

CHARLESTON -- With the recent passing of Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia lost not only the longest-serving Senator in U.S. history, but also its pipeline to billions of dollars in federal funding that has kept the state afloat for years. This underscores the fact that the Mountain State must now learn to fend for itself.

Our likelihood for future economic success will rest on our state's ability to attract well-paying jobs back to the state.

The task of making West Virginia more business-friendly may be as daunting as replacing the billions in federal funds that Sen. Byrd funneled to our state. That's because West Virginia is about as low as it gets when it comes to job growth. Recently, CNBC ranked our state in the bottom five of its 2010 "Top States for Business" rankings. For the fourth straight year, the respected business television network ranked West Virginia as having the worst legal and regulatory climate in the nation.

Frivolous asbestos filings flood our state courts thanks to a "No Proof? No Problem!" medical monitoring standard that allows lawsuits absent any proof of injury whatsoever, a standard which Justice Menis Ketchum correctly warns will "wreak enormous economic harm" on our state economy.

Recent efforts by the West Virginia Legislature to lessen lawsuit filings from out-of-state plaintiffs and curb abusive bad faith lawsuits have been undone in large part by an activist state Supreme Court. As home to three of the seven largest verdicts in the nation for 2007 and the only state in the nation with no right of full appeal, West Virginia has sent a stinging message to employers -- enter at your own risk.

One area where we can make an immediate impact is reforming our state's appeals process. The state Supreme Court is currently revising its appellate rules in an attempt to provide greater access to the court. However, it is unclear whether the proposed rule changes will result in a meaningful right of appeal for all West Virginians.

A better solution would be the creation of an intermediate appeals court,

The Supreme Court's new proposed Rules of Appellate Procedure may ultimately improve upon West Virginia's current appeals process, but they still do not put West Virginians on the same legal footing as people in most other states. The creation of an intermediate appeals court would not only go a long way toward improving West Virginia's appeals process, but would also send a clear message to job providers that West Virginia is serious about improving its legal climate.

Living in West Virginia offers so many good things. One of them should be a fair court system that attracts the economic development and jobs necessary to help our state grow, thus keeping our children from migrating to jobs in other states. Let's hope the evolving leadership of the Mountain State takes this issue seriously.

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

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