CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The governor’s bill outlining a new intermediate court of appeals has been introduced, kicking off renewed debate over whether West Virginia needs another layer for its courts system.
Gov. Jim Justice advocated for the court last week during his State of the State speech.
“It’s time to create an Intermediate Court of Appeals in West Virginia, Justice said. It’s another step forward to
instill — to restoring honor and integrity back to the court system.”
The concept has been debated at least a decade. In 2009, an Independent Commission on Judicial Reform created by then-Gov. Joe Manchin, recommended implementation of an intermediate court.
A bill that would have created an intermediate court was introduced in the Senate last year. The bill passed the Senate but got bogged down in the House of Delegates.
Much of the debate concerned cost.
A fiscal note from the state Supreme Court said the new court would cost more than $10 million a year but Republican leaders of the Senate said it’s more like $3 million to $4 million annually.
“We stood down and we went along with the then West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals idea to not have an Intermediate Appellant Court six or seven years ago,” Stephen Roberts, West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President, said. “Now we have a new court and it is to my understanding that the new court has supported the concept of an intermediate appellant court. I think people who are interested in a good solid body of law recognizes that the more input you get, the more eyes you get on this the better.”
There are actually two bills this year focused on an intermediate court, but they are similar. One represents the bill the Senate passed last year. The other is the bill introduced on behalf of the governor. Each has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which might take up a version of the bill this week.
The intermediate court would have the power to review final judgments in civil cases from circuit court, in cases from family court or administrative law hearings. The intermediate court would not review the outcomes of criminal cases.
Roberts said breakdown is appropriate of the 21st century.
“We’re not saying that the way we did it way back when, wasn’t appropriate way back when,” he said. “But West Virginia is struggling mightily to be a 21st century success. To be a 21st century success, we are going to have to modernized. This is apart of judicial modernization, it’s the way most states do it now.”
Each would establish two districts, north and south.
The northern district includes Barbour, Berkeley, Brooke, Doddridge, Grant, Hampshire, Hancock, Hardy, Harrison, Jefferson, Marion, Marshall, Mineral, Monongalia, Morgan, Ohio, Pendleton, Pleasants, Pocahontas, Preston, Randolph, Ritchie, Taylor, Tucker, Tyler, Wetzel and Wood counties.
The southern district would include Boone, Braxton, Cabell, Calhoun, Clay, Fayette, Gilmer, Greenbrier, Jackson, Kanawha, Lewis, Lincoln, Logan, Mason, McDowell, Mercer, Mingo, Monroe, Nicholas, Putnam, Raleigh, Roane, Summers, Upshur, Wayne, Webster, Wirt and Wyoming.
Three judges would serve in each district. They would serve staggered terms. The governor’s version of the bill calls for the judges to be appointed, although elections have sometimes been discussed.
The court’s business would move from venue to venue within the district, led by the convenience of litigants.
The bill calls for the intermediate court to be set up and operable by July 1, 2020.
Prior to the start of this year’s legislative session, Senator Corey Palumbo expressed skepticism about the intermediate court of appeals.
“It doesn’t offend me to have an intermediate appellate court,” said Palumbo, D-Kanawha.
“I don’t think it’s a critical thing for us to do. I think there are probably better ways to allocate the scarce dollars that we have.”