CHARLESTON – A bill codifying the state Supreme Court’s rule guaranteeing appeals as a matter of right unanimously has passed the House of Delegates and is headed for the Senate.
And one House leader – as well as the leader of a group for trial lawyers – thinks the bill answers concerns about the need for an intermediate appellate court.
House Bill 2164 passed on a 100-0 vote Jan. 16. The bill would amend state code to say appeals are “a matter of right” and that all appeals “shall be afforded a full and meaningful review, an opportunity to be heard and a written decision on the merits.”
Since its Rules of Appellate Procedure were revised in 2011, the Supreme Court has done all of that. Lead sponsor John Shott (R-Mercer) said the bill simply puts the rules into law.
“I’d call it a codification of their rule,” Shott, who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told The West Virginia Record. “Prior to 2011, you had to ask their permission to appeal and, three-fourths of the time, they turned people down without a reason. They corrected that on their own.
“However, they make a rule, so they can change a rule. What we’re doing it is basically codifying that and showing that the Legislature believe citizens are entitled to that full and meaningful appeal.”
The president of a group of state trial lawyers praised the progress of the bill.
"In 2010, the West Virginia Supreme Court implemented revised appellate rules that addressed the concern that automatic right of appeal did not exist in West Virginia," said Stephen New, president of the West Virginia Association for Justice. "Under those revised rules, all properly prepared appeals are reviewed, decided on the merits and either a memorandum or published opinion is released.
"The National Center for State Courts has confirmed that the revised rules guaranteed automatic right of appeal."
New commended Shott and the entire House for passing HB 2164
"The bill codifies this important rule and ensures that automatic right of appeal will be protected for our citizens," New said. "More importantly, it guarantees that right without expanding the size of state government or wasting tax dollars on a proposed intermediate court that West Virginia does not need."
Shott said he also thinks this bill takes care of issues some supporters think warrant the need for an intermediate appellate court.
“We passed the bill that we think would be one solution to the concern,” Shott said, referring to HB 2164. “The Senate had a chance to consider that bill last year and did nothing on it.
“The Senate wanted to run (the intermediate appellate court bill) first. So, we will defer to them and see what comes out of the Senate.”
Shott said he still personally doesn’t think an intermediate appellate court is necessary.
“But, I haven’t examined recent data from the court on its caseload,” he said. “There are various versions of an intermediate court in terms of cost and efficiency. The governor’s bill (Senate Bill 266 and House Bill 2366) seems to be aimed at controlling those costs, so they’re not at the upper end.
“There are different ways to go about it. The cost could be a huge number or much less. I can see anywhere from $15 to $20 million (to establish the court) or something between $3 and $5 million. It just depends how you do it, and what the goals are.”
Shott did say a year makes a lot of difference in the Legislature.
“It’s a different year budget-wise, that’s for sure. We aren’t in financial distress, and we have a pretty healthy surplus right now.”