CHARLESTON – A statewide legal reform group says Justice Brent Benjamin record on the state Supreme Court is cause for concern.
Roman Stauffer, executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, says Benjamin’s time on the court has shown “a pattern of judicial activism.”
“Justice Benjamin is traveling across West Virginia urging voters to examine his 12-year record on the state’s highest court,” Stauffer said. “We have also encouraged voters to examine his record, which will provide them the opportunity to view his judicial philosophy, and the decisions he has supported that have raised concern among West Virginians who want our state’s highest court to exhibit fairness and impartiality and respect for the rule of law.”
A spokesman for Benjamin’s campaign, however, discounts the group’s value.
“CALA has abdicated its role as a credible source of information regarding our courts, and has instead become just another special interest shilling for partisan candidates,” Benjamin campaign spokesman Darrell Shull said in a statement. “Their recently released ‘analysis’ suffers from the same fatal research flaws as their last two attempts to dupe the voters of West Virginia.
“West Virginia's courts have been moving in the right direction, due in large part to Justice Benjamin's dedication to a fair and independent judiciary.”
WV CALA points to three rulings it calls “Justice Brent Benjamin’s Cases of Concern.”
The first is the 2006 ruling in Morris v. Crown Equipment.
“This case highlights the issue of venue shopping in West Virginia,” a release from WV CALA says. “The plaintiff was a resident of Virginia, he was injured in Virginia, and he filed the lawsuit against an Ohio Company in West Virginia.
“Justice Benjamin joined liberal Justices Robin Davis, Larry Starcher, and Joe Albright to allow this case to proceed in West Virginia’s court system despite its questionable connections to West Virginia.”
The second ruling was 2014’s Kenney v. Liston.
“In this case, Justice Benjamin and the court’s majority held that the collateral source rule permits parties in a lawsuit to recover medical costs even if a healthcare provider agrees to reduce, discount, or write off a portion of or all of the medical costs,” WV CALA says. “This will allow parties in a lawsuit and their lawyers to recover ‘phantom damages’ that may have never been incurred or even paid by anyone on the parties’ behalf.
The third ruling is last year’s Tug Valley Pharmacy case.
“In this case, Justice Benjamin and fellow liberal justices Robin Davis and Margaret Workman decided to enable criminals and their attorneys to profit from illegal behavior,” WV CALA writes. “The majority decided that 29 plaintiffs, who have admitted to drug-related crimes, could file lawsuits against doctors, pharmacies and medical centers claiming that they contributed to the plaintiffs’ addictions to controlled substances. The Legislature passed the wrongful conduct rule into law to correct this decision.”
“These cases represent a small sampling of the cases in which Justice Brent Benjamin joined with Justice Robin Davis in exhibiting judicial activism,” Stauffer said. “Justice Benjamin’s record on our court is an area of concern for many West Virginians who support a fair and balanced court. Nearly every organization that supported his election in 2004 now supports other candidates.”
WV CALA was involved in educating voters about the 2004 Supreme Court campaign because “our members were concerned about the rulings by Warren McGraw and other justices that were out of balance,” Stauffer said.
“WV CALA’s involvement was about defeating activist judge Warren McGraw more than electing Justice Benjamin to the Supreme Court of Appeals,” he said. “Our organization doesn’t offer endorsements, but we do share the result of our candidate survey with our members. …
“Justice Benjamin claims he is a conservative and a constitutionalist, but his record on our court is anything but conservative. When you review his record, you understand why hundreds of millionaire personal injury lawyers and their friends gave him thousands of dollars so that he could qualify for a taxpayer funded political campaign.
“We will continue to educate West Virginians about Justice Benjamin’s judicial record to help them decide if his judicial philosophy reflects their views.”
Shull says WV CALA’s research is tainted.
“Previously released court records show that Justice Benjamin is the most conservative member of our Supreme Court, and the one who is least likely to write new points of law,” he said. “Even Justice Benjamin's opponent concedes that our courts are moving in the right direction. And newspapers around the state attribute that success to Justice Benjamin.”