High School Football

After many looks, House finally passes intermediate court bill

At long last, the House of Delegates has passed a bill establishing an intermediate court of appeals.

Delegates passed Senate Bill 275 on Tuesday by a vote of 56-44 — a fairly narrow margin where Republicans have a 77-23 supermajority.

The bill goes back to the Senate for further consideration. The Senate already passed a version, but the House made significant changes including trimming the number of districts and judges by half.

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 passed versions of the intermediate court for several years in a row.

The concept has often washed ashore in the House, including last year when it was defeated on a 44-56 vote.

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.

Danielle Waltz

Supporters of the concept were relieved and rejoicing today.

“I applaud the House of Delegates’ passage of SB275 to modernize West Virginia’s court system by creating an intermediate court,” said lawyer Danielle Waltz, who has lobbied for several years on behalf of the concept on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“This is a huge step for West Virginia to join the other 41 states with such a court.”

Beth White

Skeptics said it’s still not a good idea.

“Today, the West Virginia Legislature abandoned core conservative values of shrinking government and fiscal responsibility,” said Beth White, speaking for the West Virginia Association for Justice.

“Rather than spending our limited resources combating the opiate epidemic and helping abandoned and abused children, the Legislature allocated millions of dollars to create another layer of government and provide six-figure salaries for judges.”

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.

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.

Moore Capito

House Judiciary Chairman Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, spoke in favor of the bill today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

“I believe we’ve come up with a product that hits somewhere in the middle,” Capito said.

Roger Hanshaw

Delegates had a bipartisan debate about the bill today, often referencing how many times they had seen versions of it.

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, came down from the podium to speak in support. He said he’s sometimes been against versions of the bill but believes this one will take some workload off of circuit courts.

“That’s why I support this bill,” Hanshaw said. “I think we’ve struck a good balance from a policy perspective here.”

Trenton Barnhart

Delegate Trenton Barnhart, R-Pleasants, also spoke in support and said the annual consideration of the intermediate court doesn’t diminish the merit of providing additional judicial review.

“There’s a reason we brought it up. We brought it up because it’s needed,” Barnhart said.

Barry Bruce

Delegate Barry Bruce, R-Greenbrier, said he had assessed the House bill as a long-practicing lawyer. He said he liked the Senate version and its two panels, but he doesn’t think the House version is adequate.

“There’s no way three judges can hear the caseload that’s going to be presented,” Bruce said.

Tony Paynter

Another Republican who spoke against the bill was Delegate Tony Paynter of Wyoming County. Paynter described himself as a small business owner and said he identifies with others who might wind up facing off in court against bigger companies with more legal resources.

“Are we here to help West Virginia people, or are we here to help big business?” Paynter asked.

Nathan Brown

Delegate Nathan Brown, D-Mingo, said his constituents want better roads, more broadband access and a drug-free workforce.

“If you want to move this state forward you should focus on those three things,” he said. “Not a court that’s not needed.”

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