CHARLESTON – Six of the candidates for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals discussed issues regarding the Court and the race at a forum.
Six of the eight candidates were present at Monday's forum sponsored by the Independent Insurance Agents of West Virginia. The six candidates at the forum include Louis J. Palmer Jr., John D. Beane, Robin Jean Davis, James J. Rowe, Letitia Neese Chafin and Allen Loughry.
The other two candidates, John Yoder and H. John Rogers, were unable to attend the event, as Yoder is recovering from heart surgery and Rogers had a scheduling conflict.
While many issues were discussed, including the perception of the state as a "judicial hellhole" and the state of the current legal system, the biggest issue debated was the idea of the state having an intermediate court of appeals and the 2010 change in appeals rules.
Palmer said before the changes were done to the rules of appeals, the state Supreme Court was operating the same as the federal Supreme Court.
"I don't think you can question whether or not everyone is getting their full due," Palmer said. "Obviously they are. For some reason there was a misperception about what the Court does or how it functions."
Palmer said with the rule change and the fact that the justices now have to write an opinion for every appeal is a tremendous burden.
"Because somehow it's been brought to the public's attention that perhaps the Court is not reviewing everything, the Court has been forced now to undertake the task of actually writing out for every one that comes before the court the reasons why the court has made its decision," Palmer said. "That's a job that no other court in the United States has undertaken."
Davis said prior to the 2010 change, the rules for appeals were hard to understand and had not been revised in 34 years.
Because of the rule changes, as well as other changes the court has made in recent years, Davis said adding an intermediate appellate court would not be needed.
"Since 2000, appeals have decreased 42 percent," Davis said. "If you have an intermediate appellate court, you're adding another level of government and in this day and age and economic times, I think less government is better, not more government."
Davis also said the cost would be a big issue.
"Why tax the taxpayers of West Virginia additional monies when we are getting the job done at the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals," Davis asked.
Loughry, who is in favor of an intermediate appellate court, said many West Virginians want another option for appeals.
"I've been in favor of an intermediate appellate court since before it was popular to be in favor of one," Loughry said.
Chafin said the changes to the appellate rules have been a positive change.
"I think the rules are working now, but I'm not opposed to the idea of an intermediate appellate court if that's what the Legislature chooses to do," Chafin said.
Chafin said the new rules have put West Virginia in the mainstream with other states.
"I believe even the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce feels that all litigants are getting a full and meaningful review," Chafin said. "I think what we need to do is to keep challenging these rules every day to ensure that they're working, and that's what I would do as a justice of the Supreme Court.
"I think the new rules require the justices to work hard and I'm a hard worker, and would do that every day."
Rowe said the new rules need to be given some time before thinking about an intermediate appellate court.
"The jury's still out," Rowe said. "Let's wait and see what kind of job the court does and in another year we will have a good idea of whether it's working."
Beane said he is not in favor of the intermediate appellate court at the moment.
Other issues debated during the forum included the perception of West Virginia as a "judicial hellhole," which all the candidates agreed that the state itself is not a judicial hell hole, but is perceived as such and something needs to be changed to fix that perception.
"It's a perception we need to change," Chafin said. "I think changing judge recusal rules would be able to fix the perception."
Davis said West Virginia follows the same recusal rules as the United States Supreme Court.
"We follow the same rules as the U.S. Supreme Court," Davis said. "Leave it up the judge because I think West Virginia judges are honest judges and they can make that decision fairly."
Rowe said to fix the perception, judges need to make sure that they continue to be unbiased.
"We have to ensure that we are all fair and balanced," Rowe said.
Beane said judges and justices need to be held accountable with their actions and follow the rules to fix the perception of the state being a judicial hell hole.
"We just need to follow the law," Beane said. "That's what you have to do."
The primary election for the Supreme Court candidates will be held May 8. There will be two Republican candidates and two Democratic candidates chosen in the election.