CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Benjamin said he expects members of the Legislature to again consider the possibility of an intermediate court of appeals in West Virginia in the New Year.
“It’s not a constitutional issue. The Constitution already provides that the Legislature can create that court,” said Benjamin. “It’s a balance. It’s something the Legislature, I’m sure this year, is going to get an opportunity to debate back and forth.”
Critics of West Virginia’s judicial system have continually cited the non-existence of an intermediate court of appeals in the Mountain State as a factor contributing to, what they see as, a lack of fairness in the courts.
Currently, all appeals from circuit courts go directly to the state Supreme Court. Supporters of the current system argue such a middle layer for appeals is not needed in a state of West Virginia’s size.
However, in the American Tort Reform Foundation’s recent annual rankings of “judicial hellholes,” West Virginia again made the top five, coming in behind California, Louisiana and New York City. “The litigation climate in the Mountain State remains one where businesses are subject to pro-plaintiff rulings, fear excessive liability and lack full appellate review,” the report said.
The report does acknowledge improvements in West Virginia’s judicial system during the past five years.
“There have been some modest improvements, including a slight expansion of the appellate rights of litigants, an occasional well-reasoned decision that does not expand liability, and replacement of the state’s notoriously plaintiff-friendly attorney general,” it said.
Benjamin said he is proud of the work the Supreme Court is doing.
The year 2013, he said, has been a record one for the state Supreme Court in terms of the number of written decisions issued and even, possibly, the clearance rate, which is the ratio of cases filed with the Supreme Court to those addressed by the Supreme Court.
Justices will hear the first arguments of 2014 during the week of Jan. 14.
The 2014 Regular Legislative Session for lawmakers begins on Wednesday, Jan. 8 in Charleston.