CHARLESTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee continued to discuss a bill to create an intermediate court of appeals in West Virginia at a meeting on Jan. 30.
Anthony Majestro, of Powell & Majestro, who was in attendance representing the West Virginia Association for Justice, said the WVAJ did not think an intermediate appeals court was necessary for West Virginia.
“The association opposes the creation on the intermediate court of appeals because we believe that — and the statistics the Supreme Court has given establish this — that the number of civil appeals are dropping and the number of appeals are dropping and that the Supreme Court has the time and the capacity to resolve all of the appeals,” Majestro said. “I believe adding an additional layer causes two downsides: one is delay and I think we are all naïve if we don’t think that if people get two chances to appeal they’re a lot of people who will try to take those appeals.”
Majestro said the other courts will end up with delay if the intermediate court is created.
“The second belief we have is that it’s going to be expensive,” Majestro said. “If you’re going to do an intermediate court of appeals, there are three things you can have: you can have one that will issue well-reasoned decisions and dispense justice, you can have one to be quick or you can have one that will be inexpensive, but I think it’s very hard — if not impossible — to do all three.”
John Canfield of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce said the Chamber supports the creation of the court.
“On behalf of the West Virginia Chamber, we have long advocated for the creation of an intermediate appellate court,” Canfield said. “Forty-one states have some version of an intermediate court and West Virginia is one of only nine states that lacks this system. Of those nine states, we are the largest in population.”
Canfield said the Chamber believes that an intermediate appeals court would help create a consistent , predictable and stable body of law and would help clarify legal principles and unify precedence.
“The creation of an intermediate appellate court would allow the Supreme Court to maintain a discretionary docket while the intermediate court would manage the bulk of the appellate caseload,” Canfield said.
Sen. Ryan Ferns (R-Ohio) and Sen. Patricia Rucker (R-Berkeley) introduced Senate Bill 341 on Jan. 23. It was referred first to the Senate Judiciary Committee then to Senate Finance.
The bill would create the new court, provide for how it is set up and operated, provide for the election of the judges, set up districts, establish qualifications and jurisdictions and provide the budget for the court.
The bill would require the court to be operational by July 1, 2019, and would require Gov. Jim Justice to make initial appointments by July 1 of this year.
Similar bills have been introduced before, including last session. It’s been a topic at the statehouse since at least 2009 when a commission created by former Gov. Joe Manchin proposed it. In 2011, a similar bill said the intermediate court would cost the state about $5 million per year.