CHARLESTON – The Senate Finance Committee voted to recommend the passage of the intermediate appeals court bill to the full Senate.
The committee met twice today to discuss the bill and made the vote during the 3 p.m. meeting after discussing the bill for the majority of the 9:30 a.m. meeting.
During the morning meeting, Sarah Canterbury, counsel for the Judiciary Committee, reaffirmed the rules for judges appointed to the intermediate court.
“The governor will appoint three candidates per district to serve as judges to the intermediate court,” Canterbury said. “No two judges may be residents of the same state senatorial district or the same county.”
For the initial nominations, judges will be appointed to staggered terms of six, eight and 10 years. To fill vacancies after this initial appointment, judges will all be appointed to 10-year terms.
“Judges are eligible for reappointment, but must step down if they become candidates for elected office,” Canterbury said.
The annual salary for the judges will be $130,000, which is between what circuit judges and Supreme Court justices make.
Gary Johnson, the administrative director for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, said creating a whole new level of courts in West Virginia is a large undertaking.
“This would be a very busy court,” Johnson said.
Johnson discussed the numbers from the fiscal note released by the Supreme Court earlier in the week.
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.
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.