WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS – While West Virginia no longer is on the list of Judicial Hellholes, the state still isn't out of the woods yet, according to attorneys who spoke at a recent state Chamber of Commerce event.
Late last year, the Judicial Hellholes report by the American Tort Reform Foundation saw West Virginia out of the top 10 venues have extreme problems with their civil justice system. Now on the watch list, West Virginia has moved from being No. 4 on the list last year and No. 1 in previous years.
“We’re off the top 10, but we continue to be on the watch list,” Thomas J. Hurney, an attorney at Jackson Kelly PLLC told The West Virginia Record. “What the publication said is primarily legal reforms that were passed by legislature in the last session caused them to drop West Virginia off the top 10 list.
"They kept us on their watch list because of some expressed concerns about a couple cases out of the Supreme Court of Appeals.”
The move for West Virginia is part of reforms that is has made to its civil justice system in the last year since the report was last published. These reforms have stabilized West Virginia and made it friendlier to businesses – something it lacked in the past.
“There were aspects of our laws that were different than other states,” Marc E. Williams, attorney at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP told The West Virginia Record. “We would be one of the only states that didn’t have certain laws and the legislature corrected many of those aspects and that’s good for West Virginia. As a result, now we don’t stand out so much.”
Hurney and Wiliams were the featured speakers in a court discussion last month at the West Virginia Chamber's annual Business Summit at The Greenbrier.
Prior to the legal reforms, West Virginia was a state that had many varying regulations that made businesses fearful of moving and operating in the state, especially when its sister states were more welcoming.
“We don’t want to stand out as jurisdictions where companies fear us as a place to do business,” Williams said. “We need to look at ways we can be competitive.”
To be competitive, West Virginia needs to offer businesses what they are looking for, which included making legislative reforms.
“Our Legislature switched narrowly from Democrats to Republicans and they passed some civil justice reforms in 2015 and 2016,” Hurney said. “I think that’s what led them to move them off the list.”
Other areas that West Virginia has improved include changes made in the attorney general’s office in addition to improving the state’s business environment.
“According to the authors the primary thrust is the legislative function and also Attorney General (Patrick) Morrisey has changed that office and it’s a more stable business climate,” Hurney said.
As for as the validity of the report, according to Hurney and Williams, it is all about perception of the state.
“The actual report is largely based on perception,” Williams said. “In many ways, perception is reality – to the extent that legislative reforms have created the perception that we have a more stable business environment.”
Both Hurney and Williams discuss West Virginia and the most noteworthy cases to come out of the state in their Court Watch discussions. These presentations highlight how these cases are significant to West Virginians in a thoughtful way.
“What we do in Court Watch is look at the various cases that have come down from the Supreme Court each year and discuss some of the most important decisions,” Williams said. “It’s usually some of the more controversial ones.
"We try to give a flavor for the decisions that have come down.”