August 23, 2008

West Virginia Gov. Defends His Amicus Brief in Punitive Damages Case

West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin probably had no idea he would stir up a hornet's nest of controversy by filing an amicus brief in the West Virginia Supreme Court, supporting DuPont's petition for review of a case involving a $196.2 million punitive damages award. (See our prior posts on this subject here and here.)

According to this report, Gov. Manchin visited the offices of the Charleston Gazette to defend himself against a Gazette editorial that harshly criticized him for supporting DuPont's petition. Gov. Manchin says the newspaper has wrongly portrayed him as taking DuPont's side in the dispute. He says he has not taken an position on the merits of the case, and has only asked the West Virginia Supreme Court to address the issues.

The governor's argument rings hollow. Even if he hasn't taken a position on the merits, he has effectively taken DuPont's "side" by asking the West Virginia Supreme Court to get involved. The only way DuPont can win this case now is to get review from a higher court. The plaintiffs, having prevailed below, certainly don't want any further review. The governor may have legitimate arguments that his amicus brief was in the best interests of the people of West Virginia, but he's being disingenuous when he tries to pretend that his involvement in this case has been neutral with respect to the interests of the parties.