The American Association for Justice (AAJ) honored Martinsburg, West Virginia, attorney Laura R. Rose and her client—the village of Blairton, West Virginia—for their role in ensuring that a multi-million-dollar corporation did not shut off water service to Blairton and remove residents from their homes. Rose pursued this case and this cause for free.
She and one of Blairton’s residents, Harlan “Doc” Greenfield, accepted the Steven J. Sharp Public Service Award July 23, 2002, at an award ceremony during the AAJ summer convention held July 20 - 24 in Atlanta, Georgia.
In 1995, the Riverton Corporation, which owned the lease to the land on which the homes of Blairton were built, informed residents of the quarry town that the corporation would no longer provide water service to their village. The village was built in the early 1900s for the workers who were employed at the Blair Limestone Quarry.
Riverton’s lease provided for water to be given to Blairton homeowners so long as the families were on the property. The lease also provided that the Riverton Corporation may evict any of the families on a 30-day notice.
“The Riverton Corporation wanted to increase production in the area of the quarry. That meant the families and their homes were simply in the way,” said Rose. “The best way to ask the residents to leave, while maintaining some sort of good community relationship, was to manufacture a reason for the residents to leave on their own. That issue became the water supply. But Blairton residents didn’t want to leave their homes.”
Blairton residents filed a lawsuit against Riverton, seeking to nullify Riverton’s lease and preserve residents’ rights to home ownership through a method of land/title acquisition known as “adverse possession.” Eventually, with Rose’s help, the Blairton community and Riverton mediated a settlement. Riverton paid part of the cost to create the water system that would enable Blairton to receive public water. The local public service district and the governor—out of state contingency funds—paid the rest of the cost.
“Laura Rose simply wouldn’t take no for an answer,” said AAJ President Leo V. Boyle.
“She refused a secret settlement because she wanted the public to know about the corporation’s behavior. Her efforts focused lawmakers’ attention on the issue of protecting the rights of people who live in quarrying towns. Had it not been for the civil justice system, the people of Blairton would have been forced from their homes. She truly served the public good by taking this case,” he said.
In November 2000, the residents of Blairton celebrated their victory with Rose, West Virginia Governor Cecil Underwood, Attorney General Darrell McGraw, State Senator John Unger, State Delegates Vicki Douglas and Larry Faircloth, and the commissioner of the state public service commission Charlotte Lane.
Public water finally flowed to Blairton earlier this year.
Laura R. Rose Laura R. Rose, a Martinsburg, West Virginia, attorney and first female President (1996) of the West Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, currently serves as a member of ALTA’s Executive Committee. Rose is also Chair of AAJ's State Delegates, a group whose members act as liaisons between AAJ's Board of Governors (the association's overall governing body) and individual state trial lawyer associations.
As a member of AAJ, Rose also serves on the Public Education Committee, Peoples Law School Committee, and Women Trial Lawyer Caucus. As a lecturer with AAJ’s education arm, the National College of Advocacy, she has led many courses including those on creative uses of discovery in personal injury cases; tips on trying auto cases; and the art of cross examination.
From 1992 to 1996, Rose was the host of a legal issues television show on the NBC affiliate WHAG in Hagerstown, Maryland. She currently hosts a radio show called "Your Legal Rights" on WRNR 740AM, a CNNRadio affiliate, in Martinsburg, West Virginia.
Rose received her B.S. in political science (1981) from Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.V., and her J.D. (1984) from West Virginia University College of Law in Morgantown, W.V. In 1991, she established her own law practice, the Law Offices of Laura Rose & Associates.
The Steven J. Sharp Public Service Award, established in 1997, is given to those attorneys and their clients whose cases tell the story of American civil justice and help educate state and national policy makers and the public about the importance of consumers’ rights. The award is named for Steven Sharp of Richland, Oregon, who lost both arms in 1992 to a defective tractor hay baler.