Between rounds of golf and well-stocked receptions, those attending
last month's business summit at the world-class Greenbrier resort spent a
lot of time whining about a shared foe: the lawyers who represent
plaintiffs in civil lawsuits.
The need for "tortreform" became a common theme at the
jury verdicts drive away good businesses and caring doctors; "bad public
officials," especially certain Supreme Court justices and circuit judges,
let these lawyers get away with it.
The summit's business leaders, lobbyists and corporate lawyers invited
the leading gubernatorial candidates in to ask their opinions on this and
other subjects. Gov. Cecil Underwood lined himself alongside the
The governor reminded the summit that he has touted "tort
reform" during several of his State of the State addresses. He also
cited how he has pushed legislation to curb damages awarded by juries and
toughen the standards for evidence that plaintiffs must meet.
"Because I stood up with your help and proposed tort
reform, the trial lawyers are generating hundreds of thousands of
dollars for his campaign," Underwood said, referring to Democratic
challenger Rep. Bob Wise, himself a lawyer.
Underwood agreed with summit leaders that lawsuits hurt the
He blamed the defeat of his tort proposals on a handful of
legislators who are also lawyers, alleging that personal interests
prompted them to "stand in the way of reform."
"Divided loyalties are ice water for economic development," the
When asked for his opinion, Wise adopted a different stance from
his GOP rival.
"This is one of those issues where if one side puts forth its case, and
then the other side puts forth its case, we can have a great debate,"
Wise also called tortreform"one of those
third-rail issues" that take second place in West Virginia to mountaintop
removal mining and similar topics. "It hasn't gone anywhere," he said.
Wise said he does support some reform proposals. He
touted mediation, where both sides in a lawsuit sit down and talk toward a
resolution with the help of a trained mediator. He also wants lawyers
fined by judges and disciplined by the State Bar when they file frivolous
Wise questioned whether trial lawyers form such important
companies targeted in lawsuits also support his campaign, he said. They
include his campaign manager and co-chairman of the state Democratic
Party, who is a partner in a Charleston defense firm.
The views expressed by Underwood and Wise at the summit
generally reflect the public policy stances each has taken in office.
Underwood has tackled the notion of tortreform
during most of his term. Wise has coolly received proposed changes