WV marks 11 rankings on the ‘Judicial Hellhole’ list - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

WV marks 11 rankings on the ‘Judicial Hellhole’ list

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CHARLESTON, WV -

It's one of those rankings the state doesn't always boast.

The American Tort Reform Association released its annual ‘Judicial Hellhole' list Dec. 13, and for the 11th consecutive list, which is every year the list has been produced, West Virginia ranks near the top.

"West Virginia voters' decision in November to retire their long-serving attorney general indicates they'd like to see reforms, too, but lawmakers and judges there continue to drag their feet, and problems with unbalanced civil courts persist," ATRA President Tiger Joyce said in a news release.

The Mountain State was ranked No. 2 this year, behind California and above Madison County, Illinois. Last year and in2005 West Virginia was ranked No. 3, but the state also spent several years at the top of the list.

"West Virginia is feared by business defendants, who feel that some Mountain State judges tip the scales of justice against them," the ATRA news release states. "The lack of a full right to appeal adds to their anxiety.

"The state's personal injury law remains out-of-the mainstream, although its high court deserves recognition for some sound rulings."

And while some groups point to the annual ranking as a call to change, others hope the list will be ignored.

"Across West Virginia, state residents are voicing outrage against MTV's ‘Buckwild,' and its depiction of life in West Virginia," Scott Blass, president of the West Virginia Association for Justice, said in a news release. "The chorus of disapproval is coming from our state's elected officials, business leaders and the people on the street – and I agree with them.

"My question is where is this same sustained outrage against the American Tort Reform Association, which has called our state a hellhole for nearly a decade?"

Blass said ATRA's report is not a legitimate analysis of either West Virginia's legal system or its legal climate.

"This fake study is far more damaging to our state's national reputation and our ability to attract new business than this distasteful, staged television production," Blass said. "It's time that every West Virginian stand up and demand that ATRA stop calling us a hellhole and tell the truth about both our courts and our business climate."

West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse Executive Director Richie Heath said the report should spur the state Legislature into action on legal reforms.

"We kind of look like we're fixing some of those criticisms about the attorney general and Supreme Court (of Appeals), but now it's about dealing with some of these core problems that exist within our statutory framework," Heath said during a telephone interview.

Heath said in a news release that West Virginia seems to have fallen further behind while other states have worked to improve their legal climates.

"If we expect to keep pace economically with other states, we must pass laws that will provide the meaningful right of appeal already afforded in more than 40 other states, eliminate ‘overwhelming abuse' of asbestos litigation in the state and protect individuals and small business owners from frivolous lawsuit filings," Heath said in a news release.

Health also said meaningful legal reforms would be a more cost-effective method of attracting jobs to the state rather than its business tax incentive program.

Scott Will, adviser to attorney general-elect Patrick Morrisey, said Morrisey plans to improve West Virginia's business climate with "common sense reforms," for fairness and predictability in the state's legal system.

"Whether people agree with the specific rankings or not, the general perceptions about our business climate matter because they influence decisions about whether companies will operate a business in West Virginia," Will said in a prepared statement. "With the right reforms and new leadership from a fair-minded attorney general, we are optimistic that we will be able to convince more businesses to operate in West Virginia. We now have a real opportunity to enhance our state's reputation on legal issues."