David Yates May 30, 2014, 2:50pm

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) - So far in the 2014 election cycle, West Virginia trial lawyers have spent almost $300,000 supporting candidates.

On Thursday, West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse announced an update to its "Dirty Dozen" list - a list of candidates who have accepted the most "lawsuit industry money" through the pre-primary campaign finance period.

"The millionaire personal injury lawyers have spent nearly $300,000 to elect candidates who are supportive of finding more causes of actions to flood our legal system with lawsuits, and who oppose legal reforms that would attract job creators to our state," said Greg Thomas, executive director for WVCALA.

"In short, the personal injury industry is continuing their effort to buy influence in our Legislature," said Thomas."

Every candidate that made the list is a Democrat.

Ranked number one on the "Dirty Dozen" list is state Sen. Rocky Fitzsimmons (Senate District 1), a Wheeling plaintiffs attorney who has accepted more than $42,000 in contributions from fellow personal injury lawyers.

Coming in second is Sen. Mike Romano (S.D. 12), another personal injury lawyer and former president of the state trial lawyers' organization. Romano accepted nearly $35,000 in personal injury lawyer contributions. He also loaned his campaign $80,000.

The majority of the list is made up of incumbents, including:

-House Judiciary Chairman Tim Manchin (H.D. 50, $8,054);

-House Speaker Tim Miley (H.D. 48, $10,500);

-House Majority Whip Mike Caputo (H.D. 50, $6,200);

-Sen. Ron Miller (S.D. 10, $5,000); and

-Del. Justin Marcum (H.D. 20, $4,000)

Several non-incumbent legislative candidates made the list, including personal injury lawyers:

-Bobbie Hatfield, a newcomer to the list, (H.D. 35, $12,218);

-Holli Smith (H.D. 3, $10,500);

-Andrew Byrd (H.D. 35, $9,150); and

-Michael Woelfel (S.D. 5, $15.750).

LAWPAC, the trial lawyers' political action committee, has contributed nearly $90,000 in contributions to legislative candidates across West Virginia. Political contributions from LAWPAC and those on the 'Dirty Dozen' from the personal injury industry eclipses $275,000.

"A greedy few profit from West Virginia's 'jackpot justice' legal system, while most of us end up paying higher prices for goods, losing access to important medical and community services and lose out on opportunities for well-paying jobs," said Thomas.

"Having a Legislature that will fight lawsuit abuse is a must because employers create jobs in states where the legal system is fair."

The list was compiled based on CALA's review of state campaign finance records for the 2014 Pre-Primary Reporting Period, which ended on April 27.

A May 8 op-ed written by West Virginia Association for Justice president Bernie Layne was published in the West Virginia Record and said the earlier list was a "new low" for CALA.

"First, CALA attacks West Virginia legislative candidates for accepting contributions from lawyers," Layne wrote.

"What CALA fails to disclose is that these contributions represent just a percentage of what those candidates raised - in one instance, it was less than 10 percent.

"If you review the campaign finance reports in detail, you get a very different picture.

"Contributions came from industry leaders, coal, labor, insurance, bankers, the medical community, environmental advocates, manufacturers and small business owners. They came from college students and from retirees.

"While these candidates had $1,000 contributions from some donors, others contributors donated just $10 or $20. One candidate on the CALA list received more than 25 percent of reported contributions from small-dollar donors.

"And, yes, contributions came from plaintiffs' attorneys, but they also came from our state's leading defense firms, too. This does not point to candidates being 'bought' by one industry or another."

Reach David Yates at elections@legalnewsline.com

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