Lane

CHARLESTON -– Though it's not likely to pass this regular session, a piece of legislation introduced in the House of Delegates lays out the basic parameters of an intermediate appellate court system for the state.

Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, drafted the bill with help from staff lawyers. It was introduced in the House on March 20.

The last day for bills to pass out of its chamber of origin was April 1, and the bill went nowhere. But Lane said it's important to get the issue out there for discussion to begin.

"The reason I sponsored the bill is the same as why the state needs the court," Lane said. "The state does not currently have a right of appeal. Although the Supreme Court reviews petitions, because of sheer volume it simply cannot fully review the legal merits of each case.

"This lack of review acts as a denial of the parties' right to proper due process. As a practical effect, there is little predictability in outcomes from county to county. The lack of predictability discourages employers from locating in WV and bringing jobs to the state."

Business leaders have stressed the importance of creating this extra layer of court. They say their argument is amplified by part of Chesapeake Energy's reasoning for why it is pulling hundreds of jobs out of Charleston –- that its appeal of a $400 million verdict in Roane County was rejected by the state Supreme Court.

Critics say the expected cost of an intermediate appellate court system is not warranted by the overall caseload.

Some speculate that there will be no movement on any legislation that alters the state's court system until a commission called for by Gov. Joe Manchin issues a final report on its study of the system. The governor's office says it's still working on the executive order that would create that court-study commission.

Lane's bill would have created one intermediate appellate court for each of the state's congressional districts. Each court would consist of three elected judges who have practiced law in West Virginia for at least seven years.

The judges would be chosen during the 2010 general election, the bill says. Each would serve a term of eight years. One judge in each district would be designated as the presiding judge. Each judge would earn $119,000 under the bill.

The courts would have jurisdiction over the appeal of any civil case involving an amount in controversy is greater than $100. The court would also consider controversies related to matters like real estate, wills and the rights of cities to impose tolls and taxes.

The courts also would hear appeals involving free speech and the constitutionality of laws and criminal cases.

Unlike the state Supreme Court, the intermediate appellate courts would not have the authority to reject any appeals.

Perhaps most notably, the intermediate appellate courts would review all workers' compensation appeals, which now are made directly to the state Supreme Court.

The regular terms of the court would commence on the second Tuesday in January and the first Wednesday in September. The terms would run until the court finishes its business, according to the bill.

Special terms can be called under extraordinary circumstances.

Each court has the authority to appoint one of each of the following staff: clerk, deputy clerk, associate clerk, assistant clerk and proofreader. The courts can then hire any other clerical staff needed to perform the duties of each clerk's office.

The courts' budget will be paid out of the state Supreme Court's annual appropriation from the Legislature.

The legislation is House Bill 3269.

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