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CALA hopes legal reform will come up in Legislature

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A West Virginia group advocating legal reform hopes the topic will gain traction in this year's legislative session.

Greg Thomas, executive director of the West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, says he thinks implementing policies of legal reform will help the state's job climate.

"We feel that creating jobs and keeping the jobs we have needs to be a higher priority for people here in Charleston," he said. "It will have a positive impact on the economy if we pass lawsuit reform."

So, what defines legal reform? Well, Thomas says the group wants three things— the creation of an intermediate appellate court, transparency in appointing private lawyers to represent state agencies, and implementing changes in joint and severability.

The creation of an appellate court has been an issue for years. Thomas said a bill that would create the court gained traction in a past session but, the bill ended up dying after it passed through the Senate.

"We are the only state in the country that doesn't have the automatic right to appeal," he said.

However, some argue that this court would be expensive and superfluous. In the past, some state Supreme Court justices have mentioned they already read over and issue a decision in every case.

However, Thomas argues the state still doesn't have the automatic right to appeal.

"I certainly think what the court has done is a step in the right direction," he said. "Perhaps even the business court concept could potentially be a good idea. We know the intermediate court is a good idea. For us, that's the only solution that has been offered that guarantees everyone an automatic right to appeal.

Thomas said the issue of appointing private lawyers to represent state agencies has been taken up under West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

"Setting limits on fees private attorneys get in the state was a huge problem," he said, later adding. "I applaud the new attorney general in getting that through. I hope the Legislature will follow through."

Thomas pointed to a survey completed by Mark Blankenship Enterprises for CALA, which questioned more than 600 West Virginia voters about the legal climate.

Thomas said the survey showed 98 percent of West Virginians think jobs and the economy are the most important issues.

"West Virginians believe that the No. 1 issue in the state is jobs and they say that passing lawsuit reforms would help create jobs," Thomas said.

Additionally, Thomas said 79 percent think West Virginia's legal climate is important and 52 percent thought passing legal reforms would have positive implications on the economy.