CHARLESTON -- Occasionally, the Chief Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has to appoint a current circuit judge or a former Supreme Court justice to hear a case when a justice recuses himself or herself from hearing a case.
"It is not unusual and often happens several times every term of court," Jennifer Bundy, public officer for the West Virginia Supreme Court, said.
Putnam Circuit Chief Judge Joseph K. Reeder recently was given such an appointment.
"It has been my honor to have served as a visiting judge on the Supreme Court on three occasions thus far," Reeder told The West Virginia Record. "Each time I was contacted by the clerk of the court and advised that one of the regular justices had a conflict requiring recusal and that I had been selected as a replacement.
"Procedurally, the matters were all handled in the same manner."
Reeder said the clerk provides the names of the parties, case number, date and time for oral arguments, in addition to other information to ensure that the visiting judge is available.
After being assigned to a case, Reeder said he reviews all the necessary briefs, exhibits and relevant information for his review and preparations for the hearing in order to ensure that he is fully prepared.
"On the date of each oral argument, I traveled to the Supreme Court and met briefly with the justices [excluding the recused member of the court] to briefly discuss the case and my initial impressions of the relative merits of the case from each party’s respective position," Reeder said. "I then waited in the private conference room until the case on which I was serving was about to be called."
Although he may not be in the courtroom, Reeder is able to hear oral arguments on other cases, thanks to a live stream on the TV in the conference room for other cases.
"At the appropriate time, I entered the courtroom and replaced whichever justice was recused so that I could participate in hearing oral arguments," Reeder said.
Following oral arguments, the justices and the visiting judge return to a conference room to discuss the case and conduct a straw vote for the decision.
"The task of writing an opinion is then assigned to a particular justice," Reeder said. "Once it is drafted, the opinion is circulated for review and comment.
"When I received each proposed opinion, I read the opinion and contacted the author to offer any comments that I may have had. All three of the cases I worked on were ultimately decided 5-0, and all three were signed opinions.
Although Supreme Court hearings might seem formal and stuffy to the casual observer, Reeder said this is not the case.
"I don’t find there to be any 'pomp and circumstance,'" he said. "The justices are all very personable and accommodating, and their staff is very professional and courteous.
"Personally, as a circuit judge, I feel honored when the Supreme Court selects me as a visiting judge. Likewise, I am honored when I am selected to handle matters in another circuit as I appreciate the trust and confidence that the court demonstrates by selecting me."