BY JESSICA M. KARMASEK
CHARLESTON -- The push for an intermediate appellate court is now headed to the House of Delegates.
The state Senate on Wednesday passed a bill to create a three-judge panel to hear appeals. The Senate vote was 24-9.
The proposed legislation, Senate Bill 307, would create the court that would hear mostly criminal and civil cases.
The bill, introduced Jan. 27, was advanced by the Senate Judiciary Committee and then the Senate Finance Committee on Monday.
According to the bill, the intermediate appeals court "shall be established and operable" on or before Jan. 1, 2013.
The court, according to the proposed legislation, shall not have original jurisdiction.
Those petitions for appeal shall be filed with the Supreme Court of Appeals, and those cases for which the Supreme Court elects not to grant petitions for appeal shall be transferred to the intermediate appeals court.
The court also would have jurisdiction to hear appeals from final judgments or orders entered by a circuit court in any civil or criminal case and those appeals from the Workers Compensation Board of Review and the Public Service Commission.
According to the bill, any aggrieved party may petition the Supreme Court of Appeals for writ of certiorari within 30 days of a decision by the court.
The court's three judges shall be initially appointed by the governor on or before July 1, 2012 from names submitted by the Judicial Vacancy Advisory Committee.
Other qualifications for the court's judges include West Virginia residency and 10 years of law practice.
The bill also creates staggered terms, with one judge being appointed for four years, one for six and one for eight.
And the end of each term, a judge's position shall be filled by election, for a 10-year term, in the same manner as the Supreme Court of Appeals.
One of the three judges also shall be chosen as chief judge of the court.
"The manner of choosing the chief judge and providing for periodic rotation of the position of chief judge shall be determined by rules to be established by the Supreme Court of Appeals," according to the bill.
The proposed legislation also set the annual salary of those intermediate appeals court judges at $118,000. Reimbursement for expenses "shall be at a rate established by the Supreme Court of Appeals," according to the bill.
Each intermediate appeals court judge may employ two law clerks and one secretary. The court, itself, may employ a clerk and any "necessary staff." The compensation of the staff shall be established by the judges of the intermediate appeals court with the approval of the Supreme Court of Appeals, under the bill.
According to the proposed legislation, the intermediate appeals court's budget shall be included in the appropriation for the Supreme Court of Appeals.
"To the extent possible, the Supreme Court shall designate existing facilities and existing staff members for use by the Intermediate Court of Appeals to minimize costs for establishing and operating the Intermediate Court of Appeals," according to the bill.
In 2009, a commission studied the state's judicial system and recommended the creation of an intermediate appeals court.
Last year, in response, the state Supreme Court made numerous changes to its appeals process.
However, business and legal groups said the changes didn't go far enough. Many insisted the state needs an intermediate appeals court.
The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, for one, said last fall that the proposed rules moved the appellate process forward but "will continue many archaic systems and tools that are considered outdated."
Two of the state's trade associations said at the time that the changes would increase the court's workload and make it harder to attract new businesses.
Both the the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association and the West Virginia Business and Industry Council called for the creation of an intermediate appeals court.
SB 307 was introduced by Acting Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall; Mike Hall, R-Putnam; John Unger, D-Berkeley; Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell; Robert Plymale, D-Wayne; Dan Foster, D-Kanawha; Joseph Minard, D-Harrison; Roman Prezioso, D-Marion; Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha; Ron Stollings, D-Boone; D. Richard Browning, D-Wyoming; Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha; Mike Green, D-Raleigh; Robert Beach, D-Monongalia; Donna Boley, R-Pleasants; David Nohe, R-Wood; Karen Facemyer, R-Jackson; Dave Sypolt, R-Preston; Clark Barnes, R-Randolph; Erik Wells, D-Kanawha; and Orphy Klempa, D-Ohio.