The West Virginia Legislature, after years of trying, has finally passed a bill creating an intermediate court of appeals. Governor Justice has the bill, and he is expected to sign it into law.
As our Brad McElhinny reported, “The West Virginia Appellate Reorganization Act would establish an intermediate court to review civil cases between the circuit court and the Supreme Court levels. It would also review issues such as workers compensation and final orders from family court.”
The court will be relatively bare-bones; three judges with salaries of $142,000 a year who will hold their proceedings in already-available public buildings. The court has a start-up cost of $3.6 million and an annual budget of $2.1 million.
The intermediate court will pay benefits for our state.
Circuit courts are incredibly busy. Many are already overwhelmed with child abuse and neglect civil and criminal cases. Family court, workers comp and administrative agency cases often end up at the back of the line, delaying justice.
This new appeals court will take over workers comp, family court and administrative appeals. That should provide more timely and consistent decisions in those cases, while making the load at the circuit court level more manageable.
The intermediate appeals court modernizes West Virginia’s court system. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform, West Virginia is one of just nine states without an intermediate appellate court. It is also the largest state without such a court.
The new court creates a more thorough appeal process. Currently, if the lower court makes a mistake, the appellant has one shot at a correction at the state Supreme Court. The intermediate appeals court will provide another set of eyes for review.
That brings us to the biggest reason the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and state business organizations have long wanted this court; it will improve the state’s business climate.
The Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform ranks West Virginia near the bottom of all the states. “In 2019, the state’s Lawsuit Climate Survey ranking remained at 45 when tort reform progress slowed, especially in addressing the urgent need for an intermediate appellate court.”
Businesses considering locating in West Virginia pay attention to those rankings. They want as much predictability as possible, and an intermediate appeals court will provide that.
The obstacles to economic improvement in West Virginia are well documented—population decline, inadequate workforce, lack of broadband, a shortage of flat land, the drug problem, on and on.
The state’s legal climate—real and perceived—has also been an obstacle. This new intermediate court of appeals should reduce that barrier.