Judicial Reform panel submits report

By Chris Dickerson | Nov 16, 2009


CHARLESTON – West Virginia needs a mid-level appeals court to lighten the caseload of the state Supreme Court, according to a judicial reform panel report.

Also in the Independent Commission on Judicial Reform report for Gov. Joe Manchin released Sunday night, the group did not recommend an end to the partisan election of judges. It did, however, suggest the state study the feasibility of a creating a business court.

The 151-page report also suggested finding more uniformity and openness in how governors fill judicial vacancies.

To read the full report, click here.

The 10-member panel's suggestion of a new level of court would be a statewide panel of six to nine judges that would hear cases sent to it from the state Supreme Court. It's often called a deflective court.

As for the process of picking judges, the commission didn't suggest major changes despite having former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the panel. She has long been a proponent of merit-based appointment of judges, which is how federal judges are selected.

While suggesting that the state continue with the partisan election of judges, the commission did suggest some minor changes. One example is that the panel suggests filling the proposed "deflective" court with appointed judges.

Also, the panel says the Legislature should define the makeup of advisory panels used by the governor when filling a judicial vacancy. It also suggests a defined evaluation process and making the entire process more open to the public.

The report also recommends a public financing pilot program to curb campaign spending in judicial races. It suggests such a pilot program for one of the two Supreme Court seats up for election in 2012.

The commission also recommended the state study the feasibility of creating a business court. This court would handle corporate and contract disputes.

In a statement Monday, Manchin said he would review the report to determine what issues may need to be brought before the Legislature.

"The last major reforms of our judicial system were more than three decades ago and it was time for a comprehensive look at our state's judicial needs and any changes to be considered for the 21st century," Manchin said. "I am very grateful to Justice O'Connor, Carte Goodwin and the entire commission for taking the time to gather this information and prepare this report. The input they received from citizens and the legal community at the public meetings will be invaluable to us. I look forward to working with the judicial and legislative branches as we move forward with any recommendations."

The governor established the commission by his executive order on April 3, 2009 to "study the need for broad systemic judicial reforms including, but not limited to, adopting a merit-based system of judicial selection, enacting judicial campaign finance reforms or reporting requirements, creating an intermediate court of appeals, proposing constitutional amendments or establishing a court of chancery."

Manchin said he appreciated the hard work of the panel's nine members, which included retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who served as honorary chair. Commission members are:

Sandra Day O'Connor, Honorary Chair; Carte Goodwin, Chair, Former General Counsel for Gov. Joe Manchin and currently an attorney at Goodwin & Goodwin; Joyce McConnell, Dean of West Virginia College of Law; Sandra Chapman, President of the West Virginia State Bar; Thomas Heywood, Esq.; Marvin Masters, Esq.; Mary McQueen, President National Center for State Courts; Andy MacQueen, Esq.; John McCuskey, Esq.; Caprice Roberts, Associate Dean West Virginia University College of Law.

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