Intermediate court, at long last, is up for a passage vote in the House of Delegates

At long last, a West Virginia intermediate court of appeals is on the edge of passage in West Virginia.

The issue has been promoted for years in West Virginia and was among the recommendations of a 2009 judicial reform panel established by then-Gov. Joe Manchin, a Democrat.

The state Senate has already approved a version this year, as it has for several years in a row.

The concept has often washed ashore in the House, but a slimmed down version is set up for passage on Tuesday.

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, said today that his view of the intermediate court has depended on details over the years. This version, Hanshaw said he likes.

Roger Hanshaw

“I’ve been all over the board over the years. I have been for this bill, I have been against this bill because there have been various iterations of it over time,” Hanshaw said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.

“This bill when it’s been discussed in this Legislature has taken on lots of forms, and some of those forms I’ve supported. Some I’ve opposed.  This particular form I like a lot.”

Senate Bill 275  — the West Virginia Appellate Reorganization Act — would establish an intermediate court to review civil cases between the circuit court and Supreme Court levels. It would also review issues such as workers compensation cases and final orders from family court.

“The reason I like it a lot is, rather than focus on congestion in the Supreme Court, let’s focus on the circuit courts,” said Hanshaw, a lawyer.

He said other kinds of cases such as abuse and neglect or criminal cases have to be given precedent over business disputes. “And it’s only after the court clears out the rest of the docket that there’s then the opportunity to hear civil litigation,” he said.

“What makes this bill attractive to me is I now know civil litigation now has a chance to be heard in a timely fashion.”

Jon Mani

Not everyone sees it that way.

Jon Mani, president of the West Virginia Association for Justice, said the Supreme Court has a good handle on its caseload already.

“You don’t need it,” Mani said on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

But he acknowledged the caseload for abuse and neglect case is substantial. He agreed that moving administrative appeals and family court final orders to the intermediate judges could provide circuit judges more time to deal with those cases.

That approach might reverse what’s actually necessary, though, he said.

“An easier way to go about this is, Why take the smaller piece of this and kick it up to the ICA? Why not include abuse and neglect? Supplant some of the superfluous stuff that’s supposed to go to the intermediate court of appeals and put in what our problem is — make that court dedicated to helping these children that are being left behind,” he said.

The three judges on the intermediate court would receive appointments to staggered terms to fill out the court at first, with regular elections for 10-year terms after that. The judges would make $142,000 a year. Proceedings are anticipated to take place in already-available public buildings.

A big change is that the Senate had envisioned two districts, north and south. The House version has only one district that covers the whole state.

The estimated cost to establish the intermediate court for 2023 was almost $7.9 million for the Senate bill. The House bill trims that to an estimated $3.6 million.

Every year after that, Senate version would be about $5.7 million. The bill under consideration by the House would have an estimated continuing cost of $2.1 million.

And the Senate bill had judges serving 12-year terms. The House bill trims that to 10-year terms.

Moore Capito

Another change is that the House bill gives the state Supreme Court the ability to reach down and pluck appeals for consideration before they reach the intermediate court. “If there’s immediacy that a case needs immediate attention by the Supreme Court of Appeals, it’s allowed to go down and grab that appeal,” said House Judiciary Chairman Moore Capito, R-Kanawha.

Doug Skaff

Democrats in the House offered two more amendments on Monday, and both were voted down.

One, explained by House Minority Leader Doug Skaff, would have inserted a provision intended to push ahead family drug treatment courts.

“Let’s slow down. Let’s put families, communities in need before the intermediate corporate court gets going,” said Skaff, D-Kanawha.

Mick Bates

Another would have established a list of people laid off by the dissolution of the Office of Judges, giving them priority for jobs that open up at the Workers Compensation Board of Review.

“These are good people who do good work,” said Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, “but they’re very afraid they’re not going to have work to do because not all those positions are going to transfer.

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