By STEVE ROBERTS
CHARLESTON -- During his recent State-of-the-State address, Gov. Joe Manchin called for establishment of a right of appeal in West Virginia. West Virginia is the only state that does not provide a right of appeal from a final judgment in a lower court in either civil or criminal cases. This significantly tarnishes the state's reputation in terms of its legal and judicial climate.
Gov. Manchin announced that the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, through its constitutional rule-making authority, soon will issue rules for public comment that are intended to ensure there will be full appellate review by the court of all final decisions on the merits issued by the circuit courts in West Virginia. There are many good models for the Supreme Court justices to adopt, particularly the appellate rules of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in the federal court system.
As I noted, West Virginia is the last state with a 100 percent discretionary appellate docket, meaning our state is the only one without an appeal of right for civil and criminal cases.
The mere existence of a right of appeal would materially improve the quality and consistency of rulings and decisions of West Virginia's circuit courts. Additionally, West Virginia's circuit courts would benefit from the articulation of law and guidance by the Supreme Court on complex issues raised in today's litigation. Appellate review is required to clarify applicable legal principles, unify precedent and stabilize the law.
There are institutional differences between trial and appellate review, and those differing competencies should tip the scale in favor of strict, exacting appellate review.
The great civic value of a written judicial opinion exceeds the case from which it arises: It is exposed in the recognition that in a government of laws, ordinary people have a right to equal protection under and of the laws.
Some might resist or even oppose the creation of a right of appeal in West Virginia. They perhaps fear cost and delay to prevailing litigants. Establishing a right of appeal, however, together with corresponding procedural and substantive protections, judicial apparatus and financial resources, will directly redress any concerns.
Appellate review is an essential component to a fair and balanced judicial system, and appropriate rules proposed by the state's high court would be an important and welcome development in improving the state's judicial climate. More importantly, a right of appeal would create written guidance to circuit courts so our laws will be even-handedly applied.
The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce strongly supports the actions being taken by Gov. Manchin and the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, and we urge them to provide for a right of appeal from all final judgments in the circuit courts.
Roberts is president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.