Thursday, November 02, 2006

Out-of-State Gambling Interests, Trial Lawyers Fund Last-Minute Attack on Incumbent GOP Delegates

Yesterday and today, numerous radio stations began running political ads targeting several incumbent Republican delegates funded by a group called West Virginians for a Brighter Future.

WVBF is a creation of former state Democratic Chairman Chuck Smith, who is listed with the Secretary of State as the group's treasurer, and has been funded primarily by out-of-state gambling interests and trial lawyers.

Today's electioneering communication disclosure shows numerous $1,000 donations, including 3 from 3 different women who are all listed as homemakers with an address of 40 Fountain Plaza, Buffalo, New York. Boston Bruins (NHL) Executive Vice President Charles Jacbos also lists this address. My research shows this is the address of the law firm of Bond, Schoeneck & King, PLLC, which is listed in the Martindale-Hubbell directory as focusing on employment law. Another donor to WVBF was Herbert Tyner, President of the Hazel Park Harness Raceway in Michigan.

Because of the urgency of disseminating this information, details about other donors to WVBF is unavailable at this time.

So apparently, West Virginia is for sale as long as the buyer is an out-of-state plaintiff's lawyer or gambling operator.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

State Supreme Court Blocks Starcher from Becoming Chief Justice

This morning's Charleston Gazette reports that the state Supreme Court voted 3-2 last week to interrupt its 25-year-old tradition of annually rotating among its members the position of chief justice and retain Chief Justice Robin Davis in her current position next year.

Davis, the Court's most senior member, has been a justice since 1996 and would have been replaced next year by controversial Justice Larry Starcher, a former chief justice, had the existing rotation plan been preserved. The justices voted unanimously to resume the annual rotation of the chief justice in 2008, when former Chief Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard will again become the chief justice.

Starcher has been a lingering source of controversy on the bench in recent years. In 2004, Starcher heckled Greenbrier County Circuit Judge Jim Rowe at a debate between Rowe and former Justice Warren McGraw. McGraw narrowly defeated Judge Rowe in the Democratic primary but lost to Justice Brent Benjamin in the general election following a very heated campaign and the Rant at Racine. Judge Rowe remains a circuit judge in Greenbrier County and is subject to administrative oversight by the chief justice.

Justice Starcher's unprecedented, flagrant violation of the canons of judicial ethics in this incident and his comments to the New York Times that Justice Benjamin "was bought by Don Blankenship" may have been contributing factors in the Court's decision to block Starcher's scheduled turn as chief justice in 2007.

Voting in the majority were Chief Justice Davis, Justice Maynard, and Justice Benjamin; dissenting were Justice Starcher and Justice Joe Albright.

I'm sure my law professors are not happy. Too bad.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

8 Days before Election, Governor to Announce Tax Reform Plan

Tomorrow morning, Governor Joe Manchin will unveil his proposal for reforming West Virginia’s tax system. Given the timing of tomorrow’s announcement, one thing is certain: this plan will be long on politics and very short on meaningful policy.

Moreover, news reports over the weekend have indicated the governor will call the Legislature into special session immediately after the election and before new legislators may be sworn in. The state constitution (W.Va. Const. Art. IV, §7) provides that the term of office of the Legislature begins on December 1 in even-numbered years. Usually, legislators are sworn in on the first day of the regular session in January; however, if the Legislature is in session at any time between December 1 and the regular sessions, the swearing-in is held earlier.

While rare, lame-duck special sessions of the West Virginia Legislature are not without precedent. Twice, the Legislature has met in special session during the lame-duck period: November 20-28, 1916. and November 27, 1964. The 1916 special session is of special note because outgoing governor Henry Hatfield (R) convened a Republican-controlled Legislature after the election of Democratic Governor John Cornwell and a Democratic House of Delegates. The 1964 session was a one-day session following the election of a Democratic governor, Hulett Smith, to replace a fellow Democrat, Wally Barron, and an election of a Legislature more heavily Democratic than its predecessor. On several other occasions, newly-elected legislatures were convened after the December 1 beginning of the term of office but before the regular session on the second Wednesday of January.

The timing of tomorrow’s announcement, coupled with the governor’s planned mini-tour of the state to promote his plan, strikes almost every political observer as a pre-election political maneuver designed to benefit members of the Ruling Party. I see it as a desperate ploy to distract attention from the fact that a lifetime of one party-rule in the Legislature has produced only a lifetime of listlessness for our state. As I wrote last week, Open for Business remains a slogan on the road signs West Virginia expatriates see when they return home to visit their parents and grandparents a few times a year because our next-to-last ranking in state business climates has caused most noncaptive businesses (meaning those businesses that can choose where to locate as opposed to captive industries like coal, oil, gas, timber, and other extractive industries that have no such choice) to avoid West Virginia.

If my hectic schedule at law school permits, I will try to write more tomorrow about the substance of the governor’s proposal and whether its politics meet my current expectations.