CHARLESTON – For more than a decade, West Virginia was labeled a “Judicial Hellhole” because of our state’s activist judges, the rampant courtroom abuses by some personal injury lawyers, and unbalanced laws that have been out-of-step with other states.
Now, with thanks to the strong bipartisan leadership of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, State Senate President Bill Cole, House Speaker Tim Armstead and the coalition of legislators who acted boldly during the legislative session to address our state’s notorious legal system, the American Tort Reform Association no longer labels us a “Judicial Hellhole.”
The bipartisan legal reforms passed during the legislative session will help make our state more attractive to job creators. They will help small businesses grow and hire more employees. These reforms have resulted in savings, will provide more opportunities for West Virginians and can help.
Despite these recent legislative achievements, a handful of critical civil justice issues still need to be addressed – through reforms that we anticipate would keep West Virginia off of future “Judicial Hellhole" lists if enacted.
West Virginia continues to be the only state in the country that doesn’t provide an appeal of right for either civil or criminal litigants. Our state is one of nine that doesn’t have an intermediate court of appeals. Our Legislature should take decisive action and establish an intermediate court of appeals during the upcoming legislative session.
In addition to the intermediate court of appeal, legislators should enact into law the good-government, outside-counsel policy that Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has implemented for his office. This process, which has saved our state millions, requires transparency in private attorney contracting when the attorney general’s office hires private lawyers to represent our state. This transparent process should end the good-old-boy style politics of backroom deals and should be a required policy for all future West Virginia attorneys general.
Also, importantly, next year voters will have the opportunity to determine whether our state’s Supreme Court of Appeals’ liability expanding majority is right for West Virginia. With no intermediate court of appeals in place, the long-term impact of recently passed lawsuit reforms remains uncertain, as legal challenges are likely to come from personal injury lawyers who have profited off of our out-of-balance legal system in the past.
WV CALA’s 30,000 members applaud Governor Tomblin, Senate President Bill Cole, House Speaker Tim Armstead, and every member of the West Virginia Legislature who supported the much-needed legal reforms that became law this year. Today, West Virginia is no longer a “Judicial Hellhole” because of the visionary new leadership at the helm of our state.
Stauffer is executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.