WV Lawmakers Bamboozled, Limited Your Rights


Bamboozle [bam-boo-zuhl] – to deceive or get the better of
someone by trickery, flattery or the like; humbug; hoodwink

Tell West Virginia legislators to protect your constitutional rights!
Don’t let them get bamboozled again! Sign the petition!


Noted astronomer Carl Sagan said, “One of the saddest lessons in history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle.” Such is the case with the West Virginia Legislature and the American Tort Reform Association’s Judicial Hellhole® PR campaign.

The bamboozling begins with ATRA itself. Founded in 1986 it claims to be a “grassroots” organization, the truth is the members are largely Fortune 500 companies with direct financial stake in restricting lawsuits” including “the tobacco, insurance, chemical, auto and pharmaceutical industries.” ATRA is a front group bankrolled by billion-dollar corporate special interests.

For more than 10 years now, the Judicial Hellhole® PR campaign has been the focal point of ATRA’s efforts. While ATRA claims that it’s an accurate analysis of court systems, it’s not. As Dr. Elizabeth Thornburg noted in her study of the Hellhole campaign:

“The explicit goal [of the Hellhole Report] is to appeal to the public as voters, to scare state politicians into making pro-defendant changes in the law in order to make the label go away, and to get rid of judges whose rulings made ATRA members unhappy.  Judicial Hellholes are selected in whatever way suits ATRA’s political goals.  The choice is not based on research into the actual conditions in the courts.”  (Elizabeth Thornburg, “Judicial Hellholes, Lawsuit Climates and Bad Social Science,” West Virginia Law Review, Vol. 110 No. 3)

When the New York Times pointed out the problems with the report, its own authors admitted that it wasn’t a valid analysis. “The question is whether the report’s arguments make sense, are supported by evidence and are applied evenhandedly. Here the report falls short . . . It has no apparent methodology.” In response, ATRA admitted that “we have never claimed to be an empirical study.” (New York Times, December 24, 2007)

Want one even better? West Virginia’s inclusion in the 2005 version was based on two Teflon lawsuits that were never even filed in the state. The report’s own footnotes listed the states where the cases were filed, and West Virginia wasn’t on the list. When a reporter pointed out the error, ATRA said it didn’t matter. We were still a “hellhole.” (Charleston Gazette, December 15, 2005)

From the beginning, West Virginia has been a target of the Hellhole attack. We’ve been included every year despite the fact that independent evidence showed that it was unjustified. According to the National Center for State Courts, in 2010 West Virginia ranked 39th for the number of civil lawsuits filed based on population—and we’ve always been in the bottom 25 percent. Our filings are declining too. There were 4,302 civil cases per capita in 2010, and that total decline to 4,098 per capita in 2012 – a decline of 4.7 percent. Those facts do not point to a “judicial hellhole.”

Despite this evidence, West Virginia lawmakers have been bamboozled by ATRA and its corporate funders into believing that the Hellhole attack was legitimate instead of the trumped up propaganda that it really is. Lawmakers insisted that the hellhole problem be “fixed” so the label would go away.

ATRA insisted that they attacks would stop if lawmakers gave its backers what they wanted. Our legislature did that in 2003 and 2005. But did the attacks stop? No. In fact, the ATRA started ranking us dead last. ATRA and its backers wanted more. Last year, they funneled millions into our state to buy a legislature that would give them what they wanted—and they did. Thirteen bills from the ATRA agenda were passed. The new laws limit corporate accountability when they harm or cheat West Virginia consumers, workers and small business owners. They get to increase their profits at the expense of our safety, our bank accounts and our constitutional right to trial by jury.

Now, ATRA and legislative leaders are congratulating each other for putting together such a great solution . . . to a problem that never existed in the first place.

West Virginia lawmakers should be doing what’s best for West Virginians. Instead, they’ve been bamboozled into believing that taking away our rights and risking our personal and financial safety were “good” for West Virginia. Rather than admit the mistake, they’re patting each other on the back.

Let’s make sure it doesn’t happen again.  Tell West Virginia legislators to protect your constitutional rights.   Don’t let them get bamboozled again!

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