CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia lawmakers got their first look at the latest version of a proposed intermediate court.
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday afternoon heard a proposal for the court, which could hear civil cases between the circuit court and Supreme Court levels. They asked a few questions but delayed substantial discussion until Monday.
The intermediate court is a perennial at the Legislature. Observers suggest the proposal has a pretty good chance of passing the Senate this year, but wonder about support in the House of Delegates.
Price tag and whether the court is really necessary are always the big questions.
Another, according to this year’s hallway conversations, is whether the judges would be elected or appointed by the governor.
This version of the intermediate court is estimated to cost the state $6.3 million a year once it’s implemented, according to Sarah Canterbury, staff counsel for the Judiciary Committee.
That’s not a lot in the grand scheme of the $4.6 billion budget. But in a flat budget year, the spending proposal will be scrutinized.
As for whether an intermediate court is necessary, lawmakers saw a slide presentation showing a stable caseload for the current Supreme Court of Appeals.
Senator Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, asked on Friday afternoon whether anyone from the judiciary branch is available to speak about the intermediate court.
“Is there a way we could ascertain whether the court itself or the individual justices feel like it’s needed?” he asked.
That’s part of the plan for Monday.
Earlier this month, when Chief Justice Tim Armstead made budget presentations to lawmakers, he was asked about the intermediate court.
Although Armstead was in favor of the intermediate court when he was House Speaker, he took a neutral position as a justice.
Noting that the court system’s budget proposal does not set aside money for an intermediate court, Armstead said on Jan. 13, “We are very much willing to work with the Legislature.”
The intermediate court is envisioned as two districts, northern and southern, with three judges on each panel.
The judges would be appointed by the governor — on advice and consent of the Senate — to 10-year terms. The terms would be staggered, and the judges wouldn’t be eligible for reappointment. The pay would be $130,000 a year.
Woelfel indicated he’s thinking over the power of appointment.
“The way it’s set up we’re going to trust the governor, whoever the governor is, to appoint those people.”