CHARLESTON – The president of the West Virginia Association for Justice is calling out comments made by the executive director of a statewide legal reform group.
“It is delusional for Roman Stauffer and Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) to claim that West Virginia’s courts aren’t for sale when billionaires and big-money, corporate special interests dumped more than $2 million into the Republican State Leadership Committee’s independent expenditure campaign to buy the seat,” WVAJ President Paige Flanigan said. “When you add additional independent expenditures by the West Virginia Chamber (of Commerce) and the so-called West Virginians for Fair Courts, which is headed by Roman’s old boss Greg Thomas, it totals nearly $3 million.
After the state’s first non-partisan judicial election, Stauffer issued a WV CALA press release saying Beth Walker’s victory “was a strong, clear message to the millionaire personal injury lawyers and their friends that West Virginia is not for sale.”
“The personal injury lawyers who sought to use their lawsuit riches to put a friend on the bench and elect lawsuit-friendly legislative candidates got their hats handed to them Tuesday,” Stauffer said. “They unsuccessfully poured nearly $750,000 into the May elections to promote their personal injury ‘sue and settle’ lawsuit agenda.”
Stauffer also mentioned the Just Courts For West Virginia political action committee – that included donations from in-state and out-of-state law firms – and campaign finance reports that showed “hundreds of personal injury lawyers contributed thousands of dollars to losing high court candidates Brent Benjamin and Bill Wooton, who both sought a taxpayer-funded political campaign.”
Flanigan again was critical of Stauffer.
“It’s ridiculous for Roman to then criticize the Just Courts for West Virginia PAC for trying to counter what those out-of-state and corporate special interests were doing,” Flanigan said. “How hypocritical can you get? You attack one group for spending $750,000 while pretending that those other groups didn’t spend four times that amount?
“What is even more outrageous is that CALA continues to attack candidates over their contributors while it has refused to disclose its own funders to West Virginia voters for more than 20 years. Now, CALA is attacking Just Courts for West Virginia PAC over its donors too. Once again, Roman doesn’t bother to mention that he has that information because Just Courts disclosed its donors on its expenditure reports – something that the RSLC, the West Virginia Chamber and West Virginians for Fair Courts refused to do. If CALA, the RSLC and the others have nothing to hide, then why can’t they tell West Virginians who’s writing the checks? It’s wrong.”
Flanigan said voters deserve to know the truth about who is behind independent expenditures and why.
“We can’t get the money out of the elections, but we can eliminate this ‘dark money’ by improving our state’s campaign finance laws,” she said. “If you spend money to influence West Virginia elections, then West Virginians have to right to know who your donors are.”