CHARLESTON -- The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has appointed two new Circuit Court judges to the Mass Litigation Panel and named a new chairman.

In a July 10 order, the Court added First Circuit Judge James P. Mazzone of Ohio County and Ninth Circuit Judge Derek C. Swope of Mercer County to the six-judge panel. They replace First Circuit Judge Arthur M. Recht of Ohio County and 28th Circuit Judge Gary L. Johnson of Nicholas County, respectively.

The most recent three-year terms of Recht and Johnson expired June 30. Recht had served on the panel since 1996. Johnson had served since 2001.

Because Recht had been chairman of the panel, the Court also named a new chairman from among the current members: Nineteenth Circuit Judge Alan D. Moats of Taylor County.

The other current members of the panel are 25th Circuit Judge Jay Hoke of Lincoln County, Eighth Circuit Judge Booker Stephens of McDowell County and Tenth Circuit Judge John A. Hutchison of Raleigh County.

Recht and Johnson will continue to preside over pending matters assigned to them, and may be recalled to render assistance and expertise to the panel in the future.

Among other tasks, 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.

According to West Virginia Trial Court Rule 26, mass litigation is defined as two or more civil actions pending in one or more circuits that either (a) involve common questions of law or fact in mass accidents or single catastrophic events in which a number of people are injured; or (b) that involve common questions of law or fact in "personal injury mass torts" allegedly incurred upon numerous claimants in connection with widely available or mass-marketed products and their manufacture, design, use, implantation, ingestion, or exposure; or (c) that involve common questions of law or fact in "property damage mass torts" allegedly incurred upon numerous claimants in connection with claims for replacement or repair of allegedly defective products, including those in which claimants seek compensation for the failure of the product to perform as intended with resulting damage to the product itself or other property, with or without personal injury overtones; or (d) that involve common questions of law or fact in "economic loss" cases incurred by numerous claimants asserting defect claims similar to those in property damage circumstances which are in the nature of consumer fraud or warranty actions on a grand scale including allegations of the existence of a defect without actual product failure or injury.

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