October 3, 2016
Corporate Shill CALA Continues to Mislead West Virginians about State's Legal Climate
Charleston, W.Va. – The West Virginia Association for Justice today denounced West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) and its ongoing effort to take away West Virginians' constitutional right to jury trial.
"Since the Bill of Rights became law, American citizens have had the right to trial by jury in civil courts. Our civil courts are the one place where every citizen is equal to the biggest corporations, the most powerful CEOs and even the government itself. Every West Virginian needs to demand to know why CALA wants to take that away and why the front group is lying to us to do it," said Jane Peak, president of the West Virginia Association for Justice.
"The truth is that CALA wants to trick you into giving up your constitutional rights because the CEOs who sign their checks want to increase their profits at our expense. Its only concern is increasing the profits of the out-of-state corporations that fund it, and it’s willing to say or do anything to make that happen."
When you look at information from independent sources, not a single claim made by CALA is accurate.
According to data from the National Center for State Courts, West Virginia has always ranked in the bottom 25 percent for the number of civil cases filed based on population, and the state's case filings have declined more than 10 percent since 2010. At the same time, appeals to the West Virginia Supreme Court have declined 60 percent, a rate four times the national average.
One of the most egregious examples of CALA’s misinformation is its claim that lawsuits are a significant concern for small businesses, but this claim is not supported by independent evidence. Indeed, in its August 2016 Small Business Problems and Priorities study, the National Federation of Independent Businesses found that “threat of lawsuits” ranks last among problems associated with business costs. The independent study ranked a total of 75 identified concerns. "Threat of lawsuits" ranked 68th out of the 75 concerns.
“West Virginians should know the truth about our justice system and the critical role it plays in protecting the rights of our small business owners. Our civil courts protect state-owned businesses when they have been wronged by billion-dollar national and international corporations. Our courts are the only place where a locally-owned business is equal to the world’s biggest and richest corporations. CALA doesn't care about protecting those business owners and the jobs they provide. CALA wants to leave them powerless against its corporate funders too,” said Peak.
While CALA claims to be a “citizens” organization, it is a front group created by the Washington D. C. PR firm APCO Worldwide. According to the Center for Justice and Democracy, CALAs “represent major corporations and industries seeking to escape liability for the harm they cause consumers. They are funded by “large corporate donors, including tobacco, insurance, oil and gas, chemical and pharmaceutical companies, medical associations and automobile manufacturers.” Since its inception in 1994, WVCALA has refused to answer all questions regarding its funding.
The Truth about West Virginia’s Courts
West Virginia’s civil case filings have declined more than 10 percent since 2010. According to the National Center for State Courts, there were 4,302 civil cases filed per capita in 2010. The total declined to 3,866 in 2014. (NCSC Court Statistics Project.)
According to the National Center for State Courts, West Virginia has always been in the bottom 25 percent of states for the number of civil cases filed based on population. In 2010, the last year that data is available for all 50 states and D. C., West Virginia ranked 39th. In contrast, our surrounding states ranked: Maryland - 1st, Virginia - 3rd, Ohio - 16th, Kentucky - 22nd and Pennsylvania - 38th.
NCSC data show that on average just 3.7 percent of civil cases are tort cases. In West Virginia that’s just 143 cases per capita in 2014. Civil tort filings per capita were higher in Maryland (611), Kentucky (179) and Ohio (171).
Appeals to the West Virginia Supreme Court have declined 60 percent--a rate four times the national average of just 14 percent (National Center for State Courts). According to the West Virginia Supreme Court's 2014 Statistical Report, the Court's caseload declined from 3,569 in 1999 to just 1,346 in 2014.
At the same time, the number of written opinions issued by the Supreme Court has increased 68 percent. Under the Court's new rules, decisions are published outlining why an appeal was or was not accepted for trial. It may be issued as a memorandum decision or published opinion. In just four years, the number of memorandum and published opinions has increased from 678 in 2011 to 1,140 in 2014--an increase of 68 percent.
The "Civil Cases" cited by CALA and other corporate special interests are less than 14 percent of appeals. The corporate special interests behind the push for an intermediate court cite the court's civil caseload, yet civil appeals for tort cases, contract cases and property make up just 13.7 percent of the Supreme Court's cases. More than 50 percent of the Supreme Court filings are in workers compensation, abuse and neglect, and criminal felony appeals.
There were just 184 civil case appeals in 2014, down from 402 civil appeals in 2004, a decline of more than 54 percent in just 10 years.
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