West Virginia has taken another step toward improving its legal climate.
Governor Jim Justice on Tuesday appointed the three members of the new Intermediate Court of Appeals–attorneys Dan Greear of South Charleston, Donald Nickerson, Jr. of Wheeling and Thomas Scarr of Barboursville.
The West Virginia Legislature created the Intermediate Court earlier this year after several years of fighting with opponents (more on that in a minute). The court will operate between the Circuit Court and the state Supreme Court.
The judges will be sworn in May 1 and the court will be operational by July 1.
The judges will hear appeals of civil cases, appeals from family courts (except domestic violence cases), appeals from state agencies or administrative law judges, and Workers Comp appeals.
Justice said the creation of the new court is an important reform in the state’s judicial system. “West Virginia needed this so bad,” Justice said. “This is a step forward and I’m really proud.”
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 Court will provide another set of eyes for review.
The business community has been pushing for the Intermediate Court for years, citing the poor rankings of the state’s judicial climate. Business leaders believe the automatic appeal of a civil verdict and another level of review will help reduce “jackpot justice” awards.
Not everyone agrees. The plaintiff’s bar argued the Intermediate Court will make it even more difficult for an individual who has sued successfully at the circuit court level to collect damages. They contend the additional appellate level will enable defendants to drag out cases even longer.
The new appointees to the intermediate court are keenly aware of the criticism. Each said in separate interviews on Talkline Tuesday that their goal is to address appeals promptly. “That’s absolutely critical,” Greear said. “Prompt action is essential to make this court successful.”
The new court will also take some of the pressure off Circuit Courts. Circuit judges and their staffs are often overwhelmed with cases—criminal, civil, child abuse and neglect, family court and Workers Comp cases. Going forward some of this load will be shifted to the Intermediate Court.
Critics complain about the additional cost, but it is projected to be modest. The three judges’ salaries are $142,000 a year. The budget for the start-up is $3.6 million and the annual budget is projected to be $2.1 million. The court will hold its hearings in already-available public buildings or conduct proceedings virtually.
At its core, justice is about getting it right and leaving all sides with the belief that they had their day, or days, in court. The Intermediate Court, if executed correctly, will help achieve those goals.