CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Supreme Court, which was tasked with determining a price tag for an intermediate appeals court it has traditionally not wanted, says the cost will be $11.7 million the first year.
The Supreme Court says the cost will be $10.3 million each year after that.
“Given that the Supreme Court of Appeals now offers an appeal to all who request it and provides a written decision in every case, and does so with minimal delay, it would seem that the benefits of the bill are outweighed by its substantial costs,” the Supreme Court wrote in a memo at the bottom of the fiscal note.
To compare, it costs $5.9 million this year to run the state Senate and $8.9 million to run the House of Delegates.
The fiscal note for the intermediate appeals court was entered today. It was prepared by Gary Johnson, administrator for the Supreme Court, which was tasked with producing the estimate because the court system has authority over its own budget.
The intermediate appeals court bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee without a cost estimate with lawmakers saying that aspect of the proposal could be considered in Senate Finance. Democrat Stephen Baldwin, in particular, questioned the absence of a fiscal note.
The intermediate appeals court — along with a proposed amendment to give the Legislature greater oversight of the judicial system’s budget — were originally on the Senate Finance agenda this afternoon, but both were pulled.
The fiscal note may add fuel to the fire of broader debate about the judicial system’s budget, which have been prompted by stories about expensive couches, rugs, chairs and inlaid floors.
For the intermediate court, much of the cost estimated by the Supreme Court includes 96 additional personnel.
That includes 46 judges and judge-service staff, including law clerks, security staff and clerical staff; 18 clerk’s office employees; 20 staff members in the chief counsel’s office to screen and prepare cases; and 8 employees in the administrative office to support the employees and the court.
As envisioned by the bill under consideration in the Senate, the intermediate court would include three judges for northern counties and three judges for southern counties, although there would be the need for some personnel.
Staffing of that size would make the intermediate court comparable to historic staffing levels in the Attorney General’s office, which provides legal services to every agency in the state.
The fiscal note also says some expense would come from setting up a physical courtroom in each district.
The bill says the intermediate courts could set up shop in a variety of appropriate, existing locations, including county or federal level courtrooms or even rooms in higher education institutions.
The fiscal note contends that likely isn’t adequate. The Supreme Court cites two problems.
“First, there are quite likely insufficient facilities available with appropriate courtrooms to lend,” according to the fiscal note.
“Any courtroom would have to have sufficient security protocols, sufficient technology amenities, be ADA compliant for litigants, have appropriate space for a three-judge panel, have appropriate space for other court service personnel to use (law clerks, etc.), and have a sufficient gravitas to allow litigants to understand the importance of the court and of the proceedings.
“Second, the costs of a traveling court would, while similar in year one, be much more expensive in following years. We estimate that the cost of a traveling court, including hotel stays for judges and travelling personnel (law clerks, security), mileage, and per diem meal costs, would cost approximately $728,200 per year, each year of the court’s operation.”
The fiscal note indicates that recurrent annual costs for the intermediate court would include office space for the headquarters of judges and their personnel, a local clerk’s office in each district, appropriate storage space for court records and equipment, general office supplies and equipment, educational travel and training, software licensing fees, legal research costs, and guardian ad litem fees.
The Supreme Court says there would be some indirect costs, too, that it didn’t calculate.
“For example, habeas corpus cases are civil in nature and would presumably be required to go through the intermediate court, imposing additional costs to the State in the form of Attorney General representation and appointed counsel for the prosecuting petitioners. We estimate that a traveling court would, given the number of state employees driving on state business, cause the court system’s BRIM premiums to expand considerably.”
One aspect of the intermediate court of appeals bill, as it is written, would eliminate the Workers Compensation Board of Review and fold its duties into the intermediate court.
The state Insurance Commission wrote a separate fiscal note about that aspect, saying the move would save the agency $1 million a year.