CHARLESTON – The House of Delegates has adopted a bill that would set up a review of the state’s appellate court system.
House Speaker Rick Thompson in February introduced House Concurrent Resolution 44, a bill that aims to analyze recent rules that require the state Supreme Court to provide its reasons for refusing an appeal.
In a voice vote on March 18, the House voted to adopt the resolution. It was sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee the next day.
The State Journal reported that Del. Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, introduced an amendment that would specifically request study on the effectiveness of intermediate appellate courts. The Supreme Court is currently the state’s only court of appeal.
A voice vote defeated Armstead’s amendment.
"As I read this resolution, it almost appeared to me this resolution is saying … that the original resolution was basically saying we have done all these things to improve our legal climate and outside forces are saying we haven't done enough … we need to do more," Armstead told the State Journal.
The resolution would require the Joint Committee on Government and Finance to study the effectiveness and efficiency of the Supreme Court’s new appellate rules. Those rules require the court to issue a written decision when it declines to hear an appeal.
Groups like the American Tort Reform Association, which placed the state No. 2 on its annual Judicial Hellholes report in December, complain that the rules still don’t ensure a right of appeal in the state.
The state Senate had passed legislation in 2011 that would have created an intermediate court, but it was defeated in the House Judiciary Committee.
“The bill later failed in the House Judiciary Committee, as Chief Justice Menis Ketchum hoped it would,” the Judicial Hellholes report says. “He continued to reiterate his position, backed by the plaintiffs’ bar, that an intermediate appeals court is unnecessary.
“Tellingly ironic was what the (former) president of the personal injury lawyers’ trade group called this proposal to ensure everyone’s right to a meaningful appeal: A ‘jackass stupid idea.’”
The current president of the state’s trial lawyer group, the West Virginia Association for Justice, said in December that an intermediate appellate court would be a waste of taxpayer money and would delay resolution of lawsuits further.
“It would be unbelievably costly and a waste of resources,” said Scott Blass, an attorney with Wheeling’s Bordas & Bordas. “Just because we’re doing well fiscally and staying appropriately frugal doesn’t mean we need to waste money.”
Other House members who sponsored the bill are: Majority Leader Boggs, D-Braxton; Majority Whip Mike Caputo; D-Marion, Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison; Finance Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo; Speaker Pro Tem Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock; and Delegates Bob Ashley, R-Roane; Kevin Craig, D-Cabell; John Ellem, R-Wood; Tim Manchin, D-Marion; Jim Morgan, D-Cabell; Amanda Pasdon, R-Monongalia; Daniel Poling, D-Wood; Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha; Peggy Smith, D-Lewis; and Josh Stowers, D-Lincoln.
West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts joined Thompson at the announcement in February.
“This is the kind of initiative West Virginia businesses want to see coming from our Legislature,” Roberts said. “Our members will be encouraged that lawmakers are working to ensure our state’s court system treats everyone fairly. I hope that this measure receives further bipartisan support as it moves through the legislative process.”
From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at email@example.com.