David Yates Feb. 27, 2014, 1:30pm

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) - Considered by some groups to be a bountiful haven for trial lawyers, West Virginia's punitive legal climate may soon start to fracture as more reformers come to political power, a legal reform group hopes.

"The personal injury lawsuit industry is losing its grasp on the state Legislature," said Greg Thomas, executive director for West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. "We're super excited about this Election Year. We're getting better people in power."

The state has been named a Judicial Hellhole every year since 2002 by the American Tort Reform Association.

However, Thomas' enthusiasm to elect more conservative candidates is not echoed by the West Virginia Association for Justice.

"West Virginia voters will have an important decision to make this November," WVAJ President Bernie Layne said.

"They have to decide if they're going to elect candidates who put West Virginia first or if they will back candidates who put the profits of out-of-state corporations over the safety and well-being of our residents, our workers and our small businesses."

Layne says voters need to elect candidates who put West Virginia first - not the profits of who he feels are CALA's corporate backers.

Despite polarizing stances in West Virginia, Thomas believes the state's legal climate has been on the mend of late, citing success with judicial elections and "getting rid of the ethically challenged Darrel McGraw," the state's former attorney general who lost his re-election bid for a sixth term in 2012.

However, the lawsuit industry is still "very aggressive" in the state Legislature, Thomas says, adding that WVCALA will call upon its 30,000 members in 2014 to ensure who he feels are the right delegates are elected in state legislative races.

Personal injury lawyers in high-ranking positions include: Senate President Jeff Kessler; Senate Judiciary Committee Vice-Chair Gregory Tucker; House Speaker Tim Miley; and House Judiciary Chair Tim Manchin.

"We need new legislative leadership in both chambers if we are to have any meaningful legal reform and create jobs in West Virginia," Thomas said. "There will be a lot of political activity this year."

Some of the areas WVCALA is specifically targeting this election cycle include Kanawha Valley, the Northern Panhandle and the areas along the Interstate 79 corridor.

From Legal Newsline: Reach David Yates at elections@legalnewsline.com.

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