CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The executive director of the West Virginia Association for Justice says the state cannot afford to spend money on the creation of an Intermediate Court of Appeals.
A bill (SB 277) pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee would establish an intermediate court in both the Northern and Southern Districts of West Virginia, but Beth White said doing that would be fiscally irresponsible.
“It’s going to cost $30-$40 million and we’re already $500 million in debt,” White told MetroNews. “It unnecessarily expands government when all of the independent data says we don’t need to do it.”
The bill is sponsored by Senators Craig Blair (R-Berkeley, 15) and Patricia Rucker (R-Jefferson, 16). It was discussed during WVAJ’s Mid-Winter Convention and Seminar Friday at Embassy Suites in Charleston.
The intermediate court would consist of six judges, with three judges in each district. Each judge would initially be appointed by the Governor, according to the legislation.
But White said that is unnecessary. She said the automatic right of appeal already exists in West Virginia and that appeals continue to decline in the state — from 3,569 in 1999 to 1,224 in 2016.
“Our appeals have declined by 65 percent — four times the national average. We don’t need it,” she said.
While larger states may need the intermediate court, White said West Virginia does not. The WVAJ said West Virginia is in line with other eight other small states that do not have an intermediate court. Those states include: Delaware, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming.
“Larger states have the intermediate courts, but they are dealing with 30 times the case load that you see in West Virginia. Small states, like West Virginia, don’t have them. Every state that does not have an intermediate court has a population of under 2 million people,” she said.
Civil cases, White said, only count for about 14 percent of the total case load for the state Supreme Court.
“More than half are workers comp, criminal, abuse and neglect,” she said. “You’re going to add an intermediate court for corporate special interest that is going to costs tens of millions of dollars for 14 percent of the case load? It doesn’t make sense.”
White said if the bill passes, millions of dollars would also be spent by the state Attorney General’s Office, public defender services and by state agencies that will have to handle appeals through the state Supreme Court.
According to the bill, the Intermediate Court of Appeals would be established on or before July 1, 2018, if passed and signed by Governor Jim Justice.