We were skeptical when Gov. Joe Manchin's Independent Commission on Judicial Reform announced its recommendations that included a public financing pilot program, codification of the interim appointment process, establishment of an intermediate appellate court, and initiation of a feasibility study for a proposed business court.
We saw no benefit to public financing (see "The best judges taxpayer money can buy"), but the other three recommendations were sensible. We also wondered how long it would take to begin the reform process.
Plans for a business court appear to be moving forward, a good first step in the right direction. For too long, West Virginia has suffered a reputation as a hostile environment for business. Established firms have scaled back, closed, or relocated; companies that might have come to our state have gone elsewhere.
Except for the small group of trial attorneys getting rich as our economy tanked, we're mostly poorer than before.
House Bill 4352, approved by the House Judiciary Committee and sent to the full House last Thursday, would allow the state Supreme Court to create business courts in jurisdictions with more than 60,000 residents.
"By creating this court division, West Virginia is sending a clear, strong message that this state is a welcoming environment for businesses," said House Speaker Rick Thompson (D-Wayne).
Thompson is correct, and he needs to stay focused on getting this legislation passed. We also want him and the state Legislature to follow through on the establishment of an intermediate appellate court, ignoring State Supreme Court Chief Justice Robin Davis' preference for the status quo. We can't move forward by standing still.
Geographically and topographically speaking, West Virginia is "almost heaven." Judicially, however, it's been a "hellhole" for too long. We care about our state and find it impossible to reconcile these two extremes.
Perhaps someday, if this incipient judicial reform movement continues, our court system will be as divine as our geography. It could be, if we want it to be.
In the meantime, we will watch this reform closely to make sure that the first step of reform will be the first of many. If it bogs down, we will make sure to draw your attention to it.