CHARLESTON -- Former Secretary of State Betty Ireland is pushing for an intermediate appellate court in her campaign for governor.
Among her platform ideas and policies, Ireland pushes for a stable business environment. The Republican says the state's tax structure is getting better with cuts in corporate taxes and the food tax. But she says the state's legal climate still needs improvement.
"I'm for an intermediate appellate level because businesses need the right to appeal," said Ireland, who formally announced her candidacy earlier this month. "The state Supreme Court is more reasonable, but we have to get the word out."
Ireland, who was the first woman to be elected to a statewide office as Secretary of State in 2004, stresses that she is looking at this from a businessperson's point of view. She isn't a lawyer.
"For years, we've suffered from extremely negative perceptions about our state's judicial system both inside and outside of our borders," the conservative Repubulican said. "Plaintiffs want to know they've exhausted all of their legal rights. I just think this has eroded our public's trust in the court system. We're the only state without an absolute right of appeal."
As for those on the other side of the issue who think the cost of a new intermediate appellate court would be too much, Ireland thinks the state can't afford NOT to be proactive on this issue.
"For the peace of mind of our citizens -- plaintiffs and defendants, businesses and citizens -- to have their full day in court, it's certainly worth it," she said. "If this is one of those sticking points that keep businesses out of our state -- perception becomes reality, as we all know -- we'd be well better off to spend that money."
And what about others who want to give the state Supreme Court's newly adopted and instituted Revised Rules for Appellate Procedure a little time to see how they work? Ireland is willing to give it just that -- a little time.
"I'm willing to give it a very short-term look," she said. "I'd look at it with a heavy red pen, and if it doesn't alleviate this perceived and real perception about our court system ... then something has to be done. It's imperative our citizens and businesses have the full right of appeal.
"The bottom line is this. I think the perception is that the Supreme Court does not hear every single case. I'm told they look at all of those cases, so I have to make the assumption that they do.
"And I do think their new rules will make them look at more or more in-depth. But here again, the perception from people and businesses is that it's kind of a pick-and-choose sort of deal."
As for the particulars of the new court, Ireland said she would leave some of that up to people who know the legal system. But she said she believes the intermediate appellate court should hear cases before they go to the Supreme Court instead of having cases referred to it from the Supreme Court.
"I think it ought to go up the ladder," she said. "Bottom up. It would work more efficiently, more quickly.
"I just think we need to rebalance the scales to reaffirm that every citizen and every business have confidence in the system and the outcomes they're going to receive."
Ireland currently is Vice President for Business Relationships at the Mid-Atlantic Technology, Research and Innovation Center (MATRIC) in South Charleston. Her biography touts her background in business, management, finance, banking and insurance and technology.