Are "reformers" lying or just being sloppy when they use this quote?
The American Tort Reform Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and members of other "reform" groups routinely invoke this quote as proof that the civil justice system is biased in favor of plaintiffs:
"As long as I am allowed to redistribute wealth from out-of-state companies to injured in-state plaintiffs, I shall continue to do so. Not only is my sleep enhanced when I give someone else's money away, but so is my job security, because the in-state plaintiffs, their families and their friends will re-elect me." - Former West Virginian Supreme Court Justice Richard Neely
"Reformers" especially like this quote because it comes from a Justice from West Virginia, a state which "reformers" claim is a "judicial hellhole." Certainly, it appears damning to have a state supreme court justice make a statement like that. There's just one problem with the quote. The American Bar Association explains:
"In the December ABA Journal a quote about product liability cases was attributed to West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Justice Richard Neely. The quote, from Neely's book "The Product Liability Mess," was taken out of context. In the context, Neely was using an ironic style to mimic the unspoken rationale he feels some judges use to rule for plaintiffs. The quote does not reflect Neely's personal position on the matter, and the Journal regrets inadvertently distorting his views." - ABA Journal, January 1989 (Emphasis added.)
The most recent place I saw this quote used was in the NAF's response to a BusinessWeek article criticizing arbitration. Ted Frank at Overlawyered used it as recently as January of 2008...
"Richard Neely’s previous claim to fame was stating, while Chief Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court, “As long as I am allowed to redistribute wealth...” He’s had somewhat less success doing so as a plaintiffs’ attorney."
...and Frank's fellow Overlawyered writer Walter Olson used it in his book "The Rule of Lawyers."
Credit for debunking this quote doesn't belong to me. It belong's to Professor Elizabeth Thornburg who explained the quote's misuse in her excellent paper "Judicial Hellholes, Lawsuit Climates, and Bad Social Science: Lessons from West Virginia." Rather than hold your breath waiting for "reformers" to issue retractions or corrections, why not read her paper?