Well that didn’t take long.

The 2014 session of the Legislature was exactly two days old when the House of Delegates Democratic leadership butted heads with the business community.

The trouble started when the House Judiciary Committee, under new chairman Tim Manchin, rushed through H.B. 4001, the False Claims Act.   The legislation establishes qui tam proceedings, legal action brought by private citizens against the state or companies doing business with the state believed to have committed fraud or violated the law.

(Qui tam, pronounced kwee tam, is Latin for “who as well.”)

If the suit is successful, the person bringing the claim is entitled “to receive at least fifteen percent, but not more than twenty-five percent of the proceeds of the action or settlement of the claim.”

Proponents, including new House Speaker Tim Miley, are marketing the bill as a way to root out fraud and corruption.

“It incentivizes reporting internally from anyone working inside the government or anyone working inside private companies who see their companies overcharging the government,” Miley said on Metronews Talkline last week.

Business leaders don’t see it that way.  State Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts believes the legislation will lead to a rash of baseless lawsuits by disgruntled employees.

“It’s a ‘sue and settle’ bill,” said Roberts.  He adds that the many of the small businesses that have contracts with the state don’t have a team of lawyers to review every contract.   “What problem does this solve?”

Miley has made government accountability a priority.  The scandal in Mingo County, the suspicious loans and spending in the state Department of Agriculture under former Commissioner Gus Douglass, and the wasted stimulus money on Internet routers have all focused attention on allegations of government fraud.

“I’m not sure why they (business leaders) believe taking steps to discourage fraudulent behavior is anti-business,” Miley says.

But Roberts is unconvinced and has pledged to go to the mat on this one.  “The business community is 100 percent adamantly opposed to a plaintiffs’ lawyers ‘sue and settle’ statute.”  He pledges opposition at every stage of the legislative process, adding that the Chamber would also hold it against bill supporters at election time.

 

 

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Comments

  • The bookmen

    - 1860

  • mntnman

    Being an attorney, it saddens me that people view the profession as many do here. Like all walks of life, there are good, bad and average attorneys. Far and away the profession is filled with honorable, honest, hard working people. People who create good jobs, pay taxes and otherwise are good citizens. There are certainly some scoundrels -- but then tell me what walk of life doesn't have some of those. Attorneys are no better or worse as a group than bankers, insurances executives, company owners, car salesmen, etc, etc ,etc. If you think otherwise, then I respectfully suggest you are misinformed.

    The reason for so many lawyers in government is that legislatures enact law -- complex and with consequences -- oftentimes it is the lawyers that point out the problems with proposals. Lawyers are also advocates, yet another trait of legislators. So, naturally they are drawn to government. I can tell you for certain it is not because for lawyers because of the work they do -- 50-60 hour weeks are not unusual.

    As for all the comments about lawyers enacting laws for their benefit -- please tell me how that is any different than business people in the legislature seeking tax breaks or regulatory relief; teachers voting on education law; insurance and bank employees working on bills for their industries; coal companies getting their employees elected. Please!! There are lots of special interests in government and working to influence government. Its not just attorneys.

    As for this subject, perhaps a whistle-blower might have helped avoid the recent water problems witnessed by our state, if they knew their job was protected. Whistle-blowers take a risk when they report -- not just for their current job, but for any job in the future. You think a whistle-blower in the coal industry, chemical industry, etc, etc would ever work in their field again once they stepped forward.

    I will end with this. I always find it humorous when someone I know who doesn't like attorneys as a profession ends up in my office seeking legal assistance. Of course, they tell me, their claim/case is legitimate -- its not like all those other frivolous cases out there. They seek the best counsel they can get -- and they want what they want. For justice. Hmm. Only "their" case has merit. (BTW -- the most litigation in America is among and between businesses; far and away -- ever hear the Chamber asking to limit those lawsuits?) It is hypocrisy at its finest.

    • The bookman

      Mntnman,

      I, too have many friends who are attorneys, and it is sad commentary that your profession is defiled by so many. We are lucky enough to have the representation of a citizen legislature, and I am quite happy to have folks like Miley and Manchin and Barnes and Cookman and Unger ad nauseum willing to serve... These are people who bring skills to the table of government. Knowledge that enables them to successfully implement the laws they pass. There are bad apples in every bushel, and maybe in the judiciary committee as well. But the business lobby is wrong on this one. And although I'm a business owner, what is in the best interest for business is not always in the best interest of me and my family as citizens...a little dignified respect between individuals is what is missing...people need to think the best of their fellow neighbor and stop painting all with such a broad brush.

      • liberty4all

        +2 for both of you - two of the more thoughtful and respectful posters on this MB, albeit from opposite sides of the political fence (my perception). It's a shame that reasonable debate usually gives way to name calling and fear mongering from both sides. The political polarization of America has not been helpful to any of us. The two of you are to be commended for your civility and intelligence.

  • Maine

    This is what you West Virginian's think of anti-fraud bills? They are anti-small business? Do people there think the only way to run a business is by committing fraud upon the government?

    Sounds like you all have been drinking chemicals for a long time.

  • leroy jethro gibbs

    this is what happens when you put a trial lawyer as house speaker. more lawsuits

    hire the tiger!

  • Counselor

    This is definitely a bill that is a trial lawyer bonanza. They can try to diguise it as a fraud bill all that they want. It beneifts trial lawyers and those are the members of the legislature that are pushing it the hardest - go figure! It will cost the taxpayer's money. We won't have to put up with this nonsense when the Republicans take over the House next year which will happen for sure if we keep pushing anti-jobs, anti- small business bills like this one.

    • liberty4all

      Please explain "how?" How has it been a trial lawyer bonanza in the 30 or so other states where similar legislation is already on the books? How has it been a trial lawyer bonanza for the federal government to have a similar statute? How will it cost the taxpayers money? How is this proposed legislation anti-jobs or anti-small business? Please explain versus regurgitating Chamber propaganda.

      Remember the Chamber claimed that the law enacted regarding disclosure of insurance limits was similarly anti-jobs, would result in a bonanza to trial lawyers, and my personal favorite, it was "anti-cracker". Has any of the fear mongering proven true?

      It seems the Chamber has become anti-accountability.

  • Emma

    With the water contamination happening due to business neglect, I find it an odd time for the Chamber to be making threats like the following: "adding that the Chamber would also hold it against bill supporters at election time."

    Do they have no voters that they feel they are accountable to? Right now the Chamber is on thin ice in this state due to 300,000 people being put in a dangerous environment from a private business.

    If they care about small business issues, why aren't they out there helping those small businesses that lost so much money from Freedom Industries? Or is the real fraud on us by them claiming they care about small business? They only seem to care about big business.

    Who openly makes threats like that and think they sound reasonable? Do they think threatening our legislative leaders in public like that portrays a good image?
    If they say things like this in public and proudly in written form, what do they threaten our legislative leaders with behind close doors, when we cannot hear them?
    Is this the cause of why Freedom Industries felt so untouchable that it didn't worry about making sure it had safe tanks? I'm beginning to believe it is....

  • Martha

    And who is to protect the business that is wrongly accused and found innocent of all wrong doing? Who is to pay for their litigation?

    • Shadow

      The answer is: Loser pays!

    • Randall

      If they don't commit fraud, there won't be anything for the prosecutor to find.

  • Jesse's girl

    Comments by "Barbara" and others pinpoint the problem WV has had under Democrat control--feed a myriad of lawyers and wonder why business is in the tank. Be up to your neck in corruption and then bleat about the need to "clean it up."

    Perhaps the best movement for WV would outlaw lawyers from participating in government for, say, 10 years and see how WV would flourish. How many of the folks involved in the most recent corruption were Democrat "officers of the court?" Hmmmmm?

    • RR

      There are lawyers on both sides. The Minority Leader in the House is a lawyer too.

  • GregG

    Once again the hypocrisy of many in this state is clearly shown. Let's just think back to "router gate". Now correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't some people spend weeks upon weeks crying over that issue. They screamed fraud and abuse, they wanted heads to roll. But now they are boohooing that this False Claims Act is going to hurt business. You people are truly a piece of work.

  • JoeP

    One question, Mr. Miley. At what point did the government become concerned about being overcharged?

    • Quint

      Maybe when he became Speaker? Just a thought.

  • Barbara

    This is a bill the Chamber wants to fight right now? Stopping government fraud? Please House Leaders, please don't let WV down. We need true leadership right now and the Chamber doesn't care about WV only their profits.

  • The bookman

    This is nothing more than a state version of the federal whistleblower act that has allowed the federal government to recover funds due to fraud. All we complain about is cleaning up fraud and abuse, and this is nothing more than a tool in the arsenal to achieve that end... Roberts is protecting his constituent, but is on the wrong side of this one in my view. Frivolous suits will occur, as they always do, but the opportunity to impact fraud and abuse trumps the fear of people attempting to game the system. Prosecutors need to be vigilant to only bring cases with merit and verifiable, documented proof and to not react on accusation alone. This could be a very good thing if implemented properly.

    • TD

      good points bookman

      No surprise the Chamber is WRONG AGAIN

      • The bookman

        They aren't always wrong, but like all lobbyists, they are unwavering in their support for their constituency. Much of what they support is good for business, and I usually support their stance. In this case, however, the benefits of qui tam far outweigh the limited benefit to business of insulating them from a frivolous claim. Defending yourself from a false claim is expensive and frustrating, but with prudent prosecutorial discretion, frivolous claim can be minimized.

    • liberty4all

      +1

      Is there any evidence that on a federal level (or in any of the other states with similar laws) that an "explosion" of frivolous lawsuits occurred? If such evidence exists let's see it.

      Without knowing all the details, I understand that prosecutors will be involved to review claims for "probable cause". If so there should be some provision for a portion of recovered funds to be used to pay for the extra resources necessary in such review. That way a noble effort will not cause an increase in government spending. Any other plausible alternative (like hiring more employees/auditors to investigate fraud) increases the budget without a specific funding mechanism.

      • The bookman

        I saw no statistics on the several sites I visited, but did notice a statement regarding guidance to prosecutors. Reacting to accusations only would quickly overwhelm a system, so prosecutors would need to be provided verifiable and documented proof of the accusation to avoid the frivolous filing of claims.

  • Mike

    H.B 4001 should be renamed "The Plaintiffs Lawyers' Job Expansion Bill."

    • Barbara

      The attorney general will prosecute the criminals that try to fraud the government.

      • Rich

        The Attorney General has no authority to prosecute a criminal case.

        • Michelle P

          He would have the authority to investigate these claims for fraud against the government.

          • Rich

            and bring a civil action, but not prosecute any criminal wrongdoing.
            Big business put him in office. You think he's going to go after them?

  • Jacob

    Do other states have this bill?

    • The bookman

      It appears 30 other states and many cities have their own qui tam statutes.

      • The bookman

        http://www.quitamhelp.com/static/false_claims/states.html

        Above is the link to the various statutes in place for the different jurisdictions.

  • ShinnstonGuy

    Well employees should be able to call foul something that is outright terrible and not be punished for it, but to reward whistleblowers with 15 percent seems a bit ridiculous. If we don't stop all the legal battles we will send every government agency into insolvency.

    • Kim

      We have whistleblower laws. People still get too worried about the repercussions. It's understandable but something needs to be done to stop fraud in our government. The Fairmont State fraud is up to over 1 million dollars now. ONE MILLION DOLLARS!