MARTINSBURG – The new president of the West Virginia Association for Justice wants to highlight how the group’s member attorneys are involved in their communities.
David M. Hammer was elected the 2017-18 president of the WVAJ. He is a partner with the Martinsburg firm of Hammer, Ferretti and Schiavoni. The primary focus of his practice is employment and labor law, including employment discrimination and wage issues. His work in this area has included representing both employees and employers.
"It is an honor for me to serve as West Virginia Association for Justice president,” Hammer said. “Our members are not only leaders in the courtroom, working hard for their clients and fighting for justice every day, but also leaders in their communities. I am proud to represent them.”
To help highlight the work outside of the courtroom, Hammer has created a new Community Service Committee of the WVAJ. Charleston attorney Timothy DiPiero and Wheeling attorney Greg Gellner are co-chairmen of the committee.
"Across the state, West Virginia trial lawyers are making real differences in their local communities and the lives of people who live there,” Hammer said. “They've donated thousands of hours of community service and have supported local organizations.
“Most people know about our work in the courtroom, but our broader service in our communities is unknown. Our members are business and civic leaders. We want to feature that side of the story too.”
Hammer said he always hear people bashing lawyers in general, but saying how much they like their lawyer. He wants to help erase the negativity that surrounds his profession.
“I volunteer a lot of time in my community, in local theater, by referee youth sports,” he said. “I’ve employed nine people here in my community for 20-plus years.
“We are part of the community. We are very active. My goal this year is to tell attorney stories. We have stories all across the state. I want those stories told. I want people to know the truth, and I want them to know how the judiciary works.”
Hammer was raised in Pennsylvania and earned his bachelor’s degree from Temple. He earned his law degree from the Marshall Wythe School of Law at the College of William and Mary in 1988. After four years at Steptoe & Johnson, he and his now retired partner founded his current law firm in 1992. In addition to the WVAJ, Hammer also is a member of the West Virginia Bar Association, the West Virginia Employment Lawyers Association and the National Employment Lawyers Association.
"I've always been a reader and drawn to the personal stories of those around me,” Hammer said. “I saw how problems were being resolved and how, sometimes, the only way was in the courtroom. Law, to me, became the theater of human life. You have personal relationships, crime, politics, public policy.
“It's the ultimate reality show, but a very real one that affects each of us every day whether we realize it or not.
"At the end of the day, justice is the measure of how society chooses to resolve conflict. I was intrigued by that. What are our rights as citizens and how are those determined and protected? How are wrongs corrected or misdeeds punished? That's why I became a lawyer."
Hammer is active in youth sports, including coaching and refereeing soccer and enjoys performing in community theater. In addition to his courtroom work, Hammer serves as general counsel for the Charles Town Horsemen and its approximately 3,000 members who race at Charles Town Races. He’s spent the past year working toward getting his private pilot license.
Hammer and his wife Effie live in Shepherdstown. They have three children.
The WVAJ represents more than 500 plaintiffs’ attorneys throughout West Virginia and in surrounding states. Hammer said he joined the WVAJ early in his career, and he said the distance from Martinsburg to Charleston was part of the reason.
“I started years ago, mainly because I was doing a lot of employment law, and my partner was doing personal injury work,” he said. “It just seemed like a good idea to have a collective voice. And with us being a nearly a five-hour drive to Charleston, it was compelling to join. There are so many other state capitals closer to Martinsburg than Charleston. It was just a way to connect with other attorneys in the state.”
As for the WVAJ’s legislative agenda, Hammer said he will continue to fight for the same issues the group has worked on for years.
“I believe in my rights,” he said. “I’m a gun owner. I believe in the Seventh Amendment. Look, the one common factor in all 13 original state constitutions is a right to jury trial by your peers. What I will push in every instance is that I want questions decided by juries.”
He said he doesn’t think the state needs an intermediate appellate court.
“The arguments are pretty clear cut,” Hammer said. “Our Supreme Court is not overburdened with cases. That’s good news for all litigants. Everybody wants their case resolved, and resolved timely. If you ask any small business owner in West Virginia involved in a lawsuit, they want the lawsuit done. Good, bad or indifferent, they don’t want it to be delayed. They want resolution.
“And, it’s a practical matter. It would cost too much to start and maintain another court. It’s expensive, and the state has so many other issues to focus on such as school cuts and the opioid problem.”