By SPIKE MAYNARD

CHARLESTON -- When former Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis appointed two new circuit court judges to the Mass Litigation Panel and named a new chairman in July 2007, the Supreme Court also charged the panel with drafting mass litigation rules.

The panel has presented those rules to the Court for the Court's consideration.

Among other duties, the Mass Litigation Panel develops and implements case management and trial methods for mass litigation, and fairly and expeditiously disposes of civil litigation that may be referred to it by the Chief Justice. It also makes recommendations to the Chief Justice on the transfer of actions from one circuit to another in order to facilitate case management and trial methods developed by the panel.

The panel's chairman is Judge Alan D. Moats of the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit of Barbour and Taylor Counties. He and Judge John A. Hutchison of the Tenth Judicial Circuit of Raleigh County were reappointed on July 1, 2008. Members of the panel are appointed by the Chief Justice to staggered, three-year terms.

The other members of the panel are Judge Jay Hoke of the 25th Judicial Circuit of Boone and Lincoln Counties; Judge James P. Mazzone of the First Judicial Circuit of Brooke, Hancock, and Ohio Counties; Judge Derek Swope of the Ninth Judicial Circuit of Mercer County; and Judge Booker Stephens of the Eighth Judicial Circuit of McDowell County.

The panel has been working diligently throughout the year to develop rules that will make the mass litigation process better, more transparent, more consistent, and more uniform throughout the state. The panel has been aided in its work by Supreme Court Clerk Rory Perry II, Deputy Clerk Edythe Nash, and Deputy Court Administrator Kathleen Gross.

The Supreme Court also approved the May 1 hiring of a mass litigation manager, Kimberly Fields.

The panel's most innovative proposal is to implement a pilot project for electronic filing and service in those cases transferred to the Mass Litigation Panel. This proposal, if adopted, will place West Virginia in the forefront of technology and provide a means for inventorying, as well as eliminating the volumes of paper documents generated in these types of cases.

After proven success is demonstrated by the pilot project, the long-term goal is that eventually electronic filing and service will be the standard-of-practice for all cases in West Virginia. It will help eliminate storage issues in the offices of the clerks, make the processing of cases more efficient, and provide a means for instant access to case documents by the parties, their attorneys, as well as all court personnel.

Rules governing electronic filing will be among the rules to be presented to the Court during its fall term.

Electronic filing in mass litigation cases can be implemented late this year, as soon as the Supreme Court approves the proposed rules.

Paperless courts are our future. This pilot project is an important first step toward making that future a reality in West Virginia.

Maynard is Chief Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

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