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Press Release

Image Ads Won't Block Legal Glare


The Charleston Daily Mail, August 5, 2004, Thursday

A $ 3 million proposal for a national marketing campaign to promote West Virginia as a business destination has not come without its share of controversy.

Some say it's a foolhardy venture, while others think $ 3 million is only a drop in the bucket.

Others, such as Sean McBride, vice president of communications for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform, say the campaign is premature.

"That's a tough sell in this case until the state can get some comprehensive legal reform in place," McBride told me Wednesday.

McBride and the Institute for Legal Reform have taken an active interest in West Virginia and its legal climate. The Institute and the U.S. Chamber even launched a national advertising campaign of their own in the spring labeling West Virginia's legal climate as one of the worst in the country for businesses.

That distinction is based on rankings produced by Harris Interactive for the Institute for Legal Reform that showed West Virginia at 49th among the 50 states when it comes to the perception of our legal system by corporate attorneys nationwide. Only Mississippi was rated worse.

In addition to the national advertising campaign, the Chamber and the Institute also launched targeted advertising campaigns in Mississippi and West Virginia detailing how the court system was having a negative impact on the state's economies.

In Mississippi, the pressure worked. Comprehensive tort reform was passed earlier this year. The new law, which takes effect Sept. 1, caps pain-and-suffering awards in civil lawsuits at $ 1 million and reconfirms a $ 500,000 limit for medical malpractice awards enacted in 2002.

In addition, there is a provision limiting venue shopping to combat out-of-state plaintiffs descending on Mississippi courts. Suits now must be filed in the county where the plaintiff lives or the disputed act actually took place.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said in signing the tort reforms into law, "because of this legislation, we're going to make significant strides in reversing our bad reputation of being known as a 'judicial hellhole.' Businesses are already returning to Mississippi. If we want to create jobs, it's time to start touting the good news."

Following the passage of the tort reforms, the Chamber and the Institute recently embarked on another advertising campaign - this one very different from the other.

The latest campaign featured two different print ads ... one thanking Mississippi state leaders for their actions and a second proclaiming, "Mississippi is now open for business."

With the action taken by Mississippi lawmakers, it is not too much of a leap to suggest that when the 2005 Harris rankings come out next spring West Virginia will be ranked as having the worst legal climate in the country for businesses.

Once that label is hung on the state, it will take a lot more than $ 3 million to entice business leaders to come here.

Between now and then West Virginians will have the chance to weigh in on tort reform by finding out where candidates for November's election stand on this all-important issue.

Support those who would help turn the tide and bring judicial reform to West Virginia. After all, we can't say "thank goodness for Mississippi" anymore.