CHARLESTON – Personal injury lawyers have put in more than $1 million into statewide election campaigns, according to a legal reform group.
A statewide group of trial lawyers, however, say the reform group isn’t telling the full story.
West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse recently released it’s “Dirty Dozen” list, highlighting the 12 candidates who have received the most money from trial lawyers. The information is based on campaign finance reports filed with the Secretary of State’s office, according to WV CALA Executive Director Roman Stauffer, and includes outside expenditure efforts.
“Some millionaire personal injury lawyers continue to pour money into political campaigns and outside expenditures,” Stauffer said. “These personal injury lawyers appear to be driven by lawsuit greed.
“They’ve gotten rich over the years from our out-of-balance ‘jackpot justice’ court system. They’re supporting candidates who support their ‘sue and settle’ agenda, who want to see more causes of action to flood our legal system with lawsuits, and who oppose much-needed lawsuit reforms.”
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Justice is at the top of WV CALA’s “Dirty Dozen” list. His campaign has received nearly $77,000 from personal injury lawyers.
Stephen Skinner, a personal injury lawyer running in Senate District 16, ranked second on the list, accepting nearly $29,000 in personal injury lawyer contributions. He is followed by Brian Prim a personal injury lawyer running in Senate District 4 with nearly $26,000 in personal injury lawyer contributions, and Huntington personal injury lawyer and candidate for House of Delegates, Chad Lovejoy with $20,250 in personal injury lawyer contributions.
Incumbent lawmakers on the list include state Senator Jack Yost (Senate District 1, $17,300), Delegate Andrew Byrd (House District 35, $16,500) and Delegate Shawn Fluharty (House District 3, $16,000).
Non-incumbent candidates listed Lisa Zukoff (Senate District 2, $24,000), Andrew Robinson (House District 36, $16,500), Joe Canestraro (House District 4, $14,050) and Ben Adams (House District 35, $10,550).
Other statewide incumbents receiving money from personal injury lawyers are Treasurer John Perdue ($25,000) and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant ($14,000).
Stauffer said the West Virginia Association for Justice’s political action committee called LAWPAC has raised and spent over $183,000 to help candidates.
“In addition to their personal contributions, these millionaire personal injury lawyers are using their lawsuit riches to write huge checks directly from their law firm accounts to influence elections,” Stauffer said.
Also, Stauffer notes the PAC called Just Courts for WV that spent more than $400,000 in the state Supreme Court race this spring campaigning against Beth Walker, who did win the seat. That PAC received donations from Bordas & Bordas ($100,000), Bailey Javins & Carter ($50,000), Farmer Cline & Campbell ($50,000), Hill Peterson Carper Bee & Deitzler ($25,000), McHugh Fuller ($25,000), Tiano O'Dell ($25,000), Goldberg Persky & White ($20,000), Baron & Budd ($5,000) and Allan N. Karlin and Associates ($4,000).
He said many of those same firms have contributed more than $265,000 to another PAC called West Virginia Family Values. Those contributors are Farmer, Cline & Campbell ($50,000), Marvin Masters Law Firm ($50,000), Bailey, Javins & Carter ($30,000), Tiano & O’Dell ($25,000), McHugh Fuller ($25,000), The Segal Law Firm ($25,000), Hill, Perterson, Carper, Bee & Deitzler ($25,000), Berthold Law Firm ($25,000) and the Warner Law Offices ($10,000).
“It’s time for Mountain State voters to teach these greedy personal injury lawyers once again that West Virginia is not for sale,” Staufer said. “We will continue to shine a light on greedy personal injury lawyer spending and money-influence and let voters know who is behind these efforts and which candidates they support.”
The president of the WVAJ, however, says WV CALA once again is trying to mislead voters.
“The CALA election playbook is clear – take a few facts, and then twist and spin them to scare West Virginia voters into giving up their constitutional rights,” WVAJ President Jane Peak said. “While the candidates included on CALA's list did receive contributions from trial lawyers, CALA doesn’t bother to tell voters that those donations represent just a fraction of what each candidate raised.
“That's like pointing out 50 people at Milan Puskar Stadium in the visiting team's colors and claiming that everyone there was rooting against the Mountaineers. It's not just wrong, it's ridiculous.”
Peak said voters have a right to information about who is donating to candidates, but she said WV CALA isn’t giving them the full picture.
“While CALA cites the contributions lawyers have given to candidates and independent expenditures, CALA fails to disclose that the amount is just a fraction of the more than $17 million that candidates have raised,” she said. “More than 94 percent of the contributions came from other industries, individuals and interests.
“CALA also doesn't bother to mention the millions more being spent by out-of-state, big-money special interests hiding behind front groups like West Virginians for Prosperity, Mountaineers Are Always Free and Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse."
Peak also criticized CALA.
"It's also hypocritical for CALA to decide which candidates to attack after reviewing public campaign finance reports,” she said. “CALA knows who the donors are because they're listed on those reports. At the same time, CALA has refused for more than 20 years to tell West Virginia voters who its donors are.
"The candidates being attacked by CALA have vowed to protect our constitutional right to trial by jury. They have said that they will do what's best for West Virginia businesses, workers and consumers — not for the CEOs and corporations corporate interests hiding behind the CALA name.
“Since the Bill of Rights became law, our civil courts have been the one place where each one of us is equal to the most powerful CEOs, the big corporations, and even the government itself. CALA wants to destroy that – and it's willing to mislead and lie to state voters to do that. West Virginians should demand that it stops now."