CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals is estimating the cost of a possible intermediate court of appeals to be nearly $12 million the first year.

The estimated total cost is $11,708,200 according to the fiscal note. It should cost approximately $10,298,600 each year after the first year.

The personal services cost includes 92 additional personnel—46 judges and judge-service staff, including law clerks, security staff and clerical staff; 18 clerk's office employees; 20 staff members in the chief counsel's office to screen and prepare cases; and eight employees in the administrative office to support these employees and the court.

The additional costs include the costs of setting up a physical courtroom in each district with appropriate furnishings and security.

“While the bill allows the contemplated court to travel and ‘borrow’ courtroom space from various other government entities, two significant problems exist with this approach,” the note states.

First, there are quite likely insufficient facilities available with appropriate courtrooms to lend.

Any courtroom would have to have sufficient security protocols, sufficient technology amenities, be ADA compliant for litigants, have appropriate space for a three-judge panel, have appropriate space for other court service personnel to use and have a sufficient gravitas to allow litigants to understand the importance of the court and of the proceedings.

Second, the costs of a traveling court would, while similar in year one, be much more expensive in following years.

“We estimate that the cost of a traveling court, including hotel stays for judges and travelling personnel (law clerks, security), mileage, and per diem meal costs, would cost approximately $728,200 per year, each year of the court's operation,” the note states.

Recurrent annual costs of the court include office space for the headquarters of judges and their personnel, a local Clerk's office in each district, appropriate storage space for court records and equipment, general office supplies and equipment, educational travel and training, software licensing fees, legal research costs and guardian ad litem fees.

These estimates leave out certain additional costs, including habeas corpus cases, which are civil in nature and would presumably be required to go through the intermediate court, imposing additional costs to the state in the form of Attorney General representation and appointed counsel for the prosecuting petitioners.

“We estimate that a traveling court would, given the number of state employees driving on state business, cause the court system’s BRIM premiums to expand considerably,” the note states.

The abolition of the workers’ compensation appeal board as an available layer of review will reduce costs to the state overall. However, that board is not a judicial branch agency, and the Supreme Court stated that they are unaware as to the annual costs of operating the board.

“The costs described herein are only those borne by the State,” the note states. “Substantial additional costs upon lawyers and litigants in the form of additional delay, additional lawyer fees, and additional fees and costs will be imposed by adding an additional layer of appeal. Given that the Supreme Court of Appeals now offers an appeal to all who request it and provides a written decision in every case, and does so with minimal delay, it would seem that the benefits of the bill are outweighed by its substantial costs.”

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.

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