CHARLESTON -- The state Supreme Court's revised rules for appellate procedure are drawing mixed reviews from groups that follow the legal system.
Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis unveiled the final version of the updated rules on Tuesday. They go into effect Dec. 1 before the spring term of the Court.
"The revised rules add transparency to the appeals process removing any doubt that all appeals are fully reviewed by the West Virginia Supreme Court," said Michael J. Romano, president of the West Virginia Association for Justice. "While a full review of every appeal has always existed in West Virginia, these new rules ensure that every party will know why their appeal was accepted for further proceedings or denied based on the merits of the case as the Court will outline its decision in either an opinion or memorandum.
"This is justice in its most efficient form and will save taxpayers the burden of an additional $10 million a year for an unnecessary intermediate court of appeals. The WVAJ thanks our West Virginia Supreme Court, court clerk Rory Perry and other court staff for their work on these rules. The result of their effort should silence yet another false attack on our court system."
Other groups, however, aren't so optimistic.
"Unfortunately, it looks like the Supreme Court's revised rules will not result in a substantial right of appeal for all West Virginians," said Richie Heath, executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. "While the Court's new rules may result in more written decisions, it does not appear that those decisions will provide substantial legal guidance."
WV CALA has been critical of the revisions, saying the rules still don't provide an automatic right of appeal.
"As written, the Court's newly created 'memorandum decisions' appear to be nothing more than a rubber stamp of most lower court rulings," Heath said. "That's hardly a step forward for our state's appeals process. The West Virginia Legislature should ensure that all West Virginians have a substantial right of appeal by creating the intermediate court of appeals recommended by Gov. Manchin's judicial reform commission."
Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, said he will take a wait-and-see approach.
"We are still reading to be sure, but essentially we are pleased the court listened to and incorporated many of our suggestions," he said. "But we all agree the proof will be in how the new rules are applied. New rules were long overdue."
The president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform said more still needs to be done.
"While these revised rules are a step in the right direction, the best way to ensure a meaningful and automatic right of appeal in West Virginia is through the establishment of an intermediate court of appeals, as was previously recommended by the West Virginia Independent Commission on Judicial Reform," Lisa A. Rickard said.
Rickhard said the ILR, which owns The West Virginia Record, will continue to work with interested stakeholders to encourage the creation of an intermediate appeals court when the West Virginia state legislature reconvenes next year.
In 2009, Gov. Joe Manchin established the Independent Commission on Judicial Reform to review the state's court system. Among other findings, the commission recommended that the state Legislature act to establish an intermediate appellate court.
Although legislation was reported unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee under the leadership of Chairman Jeff Kessler, a bill to create an intermediate appellate court failed in the Senate Finance Committee in February.