One of the most significant battles in the upcoming legislative session will be over legal reform in West Virginia. Republicans and business interests have been pushing that agenda for years, but now they finally have a majority in the legislature to make it happen.

Incoming Senate President Bill Cole (R-Mercer) said recently on Talkline all you need to know about his position. He told me he agreed with the assessment that West Virginia is a “judicial hellhole” and he promised that tort reform would be the top of the GOP agenda in January.

The struggle over whether West Virginia should have judicial reform will take place on several levels.

The organization Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse has generated a high profile campaign for years identifying West Virginia as a trial lawyer’s gold mine where “jackpot justice” is discouraging business. This past week, CALA issued its most recent report.

“West Virginia’s legal system is once again ranked a ‘Judicial Hellhole’ according to the American Tort Reform Association, which released it’s annual legal rankings today. This year West Virginia moved up the list to number three on the ‘Judicial Hellholes’ rankings,” said a CALA release.

Meanwhile, the West Virginia Association for Justice—the state’s trial attorneys—continue to fume over what they say is CALAs false representation of the state’s justice system. Organization President Anthony Majestro, appearing on a recent Talkline, picked apart CALA’s allegations point by point.

However, the trial lawyers have a serious problem here. The perception of the state as a “judicial hellhole” has already been established. The West Virginia Association for Justice’s understated response over the years let CALA set the agenda.

The trial bar has failed to explain to West Virginians why it is in their interest to hold insurance companies and corporations accountable.

The advocates for reform—CALA, the state Chamber of Commerce, Republican leaders—are reportedly going to tackle the issue this session with not one, but rather a series of bills attacking different aspects of the civil justice system, such as an intermediate appeals court and damage caps.
The trial bar has enough influential members that it can, if it chooses, work the halls of the capitol and lobby individual lawmakers to try to slow the tort reform train. The public perception of the trial attorneys may be the larger problem. How do they convince the public that West Virginia is not a “judicial hellhole.”

For that challenge, they need a savvy public relations campaign, not a lawyerly response.

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  • army

    Just never a good idea to give up individual rights of freedom no matter how appealing it seems.

  • duh!

    They have already rolled back banking regulations on the fed level...enjoy your guns...soon thats all you,ll have.

  • Robert Byrd

    "...The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." West Virginians and national Republicans staunchly defend the Second Amendment. They are adamantly opposed to any erosion of the right to bear arms. And rightfully slow. Any laws that infringe on those rights are a step down a slippery slope. After all, they can take my gun when they pry it from my cold, dead hands!

    Why don't these same individuals also defend the 7th Amendment with such vigilance and fervor? Our 7th Amendment rights are constantly under attack by Karl Rove and the Republicans. Our rights are taken away by forced arbitration clauses, caps on damages and immunity.

    If you had to agree to give up a handgun to enter into a cell phone contract would you do it? Would you give up your right to own a hunting rifle to have a surgery? Folks are giving up their 7th Amendment rights everyday and don't even realize it. Sadly most Americans don't even know what the 7th Amendment guarantees.

  • C. F. T.

    Tomlin is the person to fear judicial reform the most, in that he will have to take an stand and sign into Law Bills the Legislature may pass or veto them.
    Facts are Facts, WV ranks last in almost all considerations of the well being of its Citizans and First in many negative categories like smoking, obesity, etc., but the biggest tell is WV ranks First as the State loosing the greatest percentage of its population. Change that builds an healthy citizenry, economic vitality, educates and encourages quality of life is what is needed.

  • Active brain

    It is very simple. No one pays "jackpot justice" if they only do the right thing by their customer

    • please

      Oh please, pick up the journal and just look at the stupid lawsuits that fill it up. For the love of god, how many times do I have to see someone suing Krogers or Thomas Hospital for tripping in the parking lot. Give me a break. Enough is enough, I'm ready for a change and the majority of WVians are too. Republicans do what you want, it can't be any worse.

      • Active brain

        Ray Charles could see why the so called study groups are now rating WV a judicial hellhole. It's no coincidence the rating is out on the heels the republican take over. Republicans have always been eager to bend over backwards to lick the hind-side of insurance and big business. Enjoy the lack options for justice should YOU ever need it

  • J the C

    Hoppy, I can't understand why attorney's need to explain to the public why they should hold insurance companies and corporations accountable. Everyone should held accountable! If you wrongfully, by your action, or sometimes inaction cause someone to incur damages, then you pay for it.
    The insurance business is a scam. We all have to pay them premiums ti insure our hones, health and cars, but for God's sake, don't you dare file a claim.
    I would like to see some hard facts that back up this judicial hellhole garbage. They've already done away with third party bad faith.