November 9, 2008

New W. Va. Supreme Court Justice Wins Election Because of Ketchup and Now Promises to Have Significant Impact on Punitive Damages

We have previously posted here on a candidate forum in the West Virginia Supreme Court race where two candidates promised they would always vote to review punitive damage awards.

As readers of this blog are aware, West Virginia is one of the few states without an automatic right of appeal, which has left defendants no remedy after being hit with significant punitive damage awards. Prior posts are here and here. One of the candidates who made that promise was democrat Menis Ketchum who said in response to a question at a candidate's forum that "he would agree to hear any case involving punitive damages 'no matter how large or how small.'"

Ketchum recently won his election to the West Virginia Supreme Court in large part because of a clever series of advertisements where he played off the similarity of his name with the famous condiment. The first advertisement was set in the popular Jim's Steak and Spaghetti House in Huntington. A man and woman sit at a lunch counter while a waitress serves them. The advertisement begins: "'What do you know about this Ketchup guy running for the Supreme Court?' begins the man. 'Not Ketchup. Ketchum. Menis Ketchum,' corrects the waitress. The woman sitting at the counter points to a newspaper and says: 'It says here Menis Ketchum has been in the courtroom for 40 years. He's a no-nonsense straight shooter and he can't be bought.'" Apparently, this series of ketchup ads was instrumental in securing new Justice Ketchum's election.

The other candidate to make the pledge to review all punitive damage awards, democrat Margaret Workman, also won election. Interestingly, the losing Republican candidate opposed automatic review for all punitive damage awards unless called for by the Legislature.

This goes to show that the oddest things can have an impact on punitive damages jurisprudence. It also goes to show that party labels on some issues like punitive damages may not tell you everything about a candidate's views.

UPDATE (by Curt Cutting): According to the website of the California state bar, there are 6 licensed attorneys in California named "Ketchum." If any of them wants to run for a spot on the bench, they should take a page from Justice Ketchum's playbook. The 30 licensed attorneys named "Mayo" also may want to take this into consideration.