W.Va. Senate passes intermediate court that’s been under discussion for years

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Senate has passed a bill that would establish an intermediate court of appeals.

Senators voted 18-14-2 in favor of the bill, which has been considered by the Legislature several times over the years. The bill now would be considered by the House of Delegates.

Charles Trump

“I believe for a variety of reasons, the time is now. It’s past time,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan. “This state needs one, and we’ve needed one for a long time.”

Trump hearkened back to recommendations of the past that West Virginia establish an intermediate court, including The Independent Commission on Judicial Reform from 2009.

“It’s not some plot hatched in a Republican caucus. This idea has been recommended by every single independent study that’s been made of our judicial system over the last quarter-century,” Trump said.

Senators spoke about the bill for about an hour on Monday.

Its passage is not a certainty in the House of Delegates, where it has fizzled in prior years.

The argument for an intermediate court of appeals is to provide another layer of certainty for civil cases to be reviewed. The House of Delegates passed a bill this week codifying that all appeals shall be reviewed by the state Supreme Court and issued a written decision. That’s been the court’s practice in recent years.

The intermediate court would take on civil cases between the circuit court and Supreme Court levels.

The intermediate court is envisioned as two districts, northern and southern, with three judges on each panel.

The judges would be voted into office by citizens to serve 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.

The Supreme Court estimates the intermediate court would cost $7.6 million to start up and then $6.3 million a  year after implementation. But the state Insurance Commission says it would reduce the costs of that office by $2.57 million a year.

Richard Lindsay

Senator Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha, called the intermediate court concept fiscally irresponsible, saying this year’s budget is flat and there are other priorities for the state such as the cost of the burgeoning foster care system.

“Yet we’re here talking about an intermediate court that we can’t even pay for according to our own projections,” Lindsay said.

Discussion on the Senate floor went back and forth, with Republicans saying the intermediate court would provide an additional level of review for civil cases while alleviating the workload of the state Supreme Court.

Democrats countered that the Supreme Court’s workload isn’t unduly heavy and that the intermediate court would drag out cases.

Mike Romano

“This is déjà vu. Here we go again. Same demand for a court that’s unnecessary and unneeded,” said Senator Mike Romano, D-Harrison. “It’s a bunch of bull, and we know it.”

Romano said the Supreme Court has been reviewing all appeals that come before it and providing at least a memorandum opinion for each.

“Why would you create another layer of bureaucracy?” Romano asked.

Ryan Weld

Senator Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, said the court’s workload has actually gone up, in part because of the responsibility of reviewing every appeal.

“We’re spending money, but it’s an investment,” Weld said.

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