CHARLESTON – As the state legislative session enters its second half, a legal reform group is making another push for lawmakers to consider creating an intermediate court of appeals.
West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse says the formation of the court would "make great strides in bringing our lawsuit appeal process in line with the rest of the nation."
“West Virginia is one of only nine states without an intermediate court," WV CALA Executive Director Roman Stauffer said. "As a result, the Mountain State is an outlier, and we are urging the Legislature to take a hard look at bringing our appeals process in line with the rest of the country."
State Senators Craig Blair, Mitch Carmicheal and Tom Takubo introduced Senate Bill 9 to create the court, and it was referred to the Senate Judiciary and Finance committees. But it has not yet been taken up for consideration.
Even supporters of the measure admit it might be a tough sell this legislative session as the state faces a budget crisis. In recent budget hearings, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Menis Ketchum said he is concerned about the budget and what it would cost to create an intermediate appellate court.
The West Virginia Association for Justice is against the idea of the intermediate court.
“West Virginia is facing a budget deficit of more than $250 million," WVAJ President Paige Flanigan said. "We don’t need the proposed intermediate court, and we can’t afford it. Legislators appear to understand that. Why doesn’t CALA?”
In 2011, the state Senate passed legislation that would have established an intermediate court of appeals, but it died in the House of Delegates.
CALA notes that two independent commissions have reviewed West Virginia’s appeals process.
The Independent Commission on Judicial Reform, headed by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and former U.S. Senator Carte Goodwin recommended the establishment of an intermediate court.
The Commission on the Future of the Judiciary, established by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in 1999, also recommended the establishment of an intermediate court of appeals.
“While our budgetary challenges may give some legislators pause when considering the intermediate court of appeals, WV CALA urges our state’s leaders to think about how having a fairer appeals process can attract more businesses, create more jobs, and help grow our economy and state revenue base,” Stauffer said.