The One Thing West Virginians Don’t Need is an Intermediate Appeals Court

The One Thing West Virginians Don’t Need is an Intermediate Appeals Court

The One Thing West Virginians Don’t Need is an Intermediate Appeals Court

With the kickoff of the 2019 Legislative session underway, West Virginians will, once again, be hearing the drumbeat of calls for an intermediate appeals court – an entirely new layer of judges and courts to hear appeals from trial courts before an appeal can be heard by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals (“WVSCA”). Under West Virginia’s historical courts system, the WVSCA is the only appeals Court in West Virginia, and it hears all civil and criminal appeals from West Virginia’s circuit courts. And the system still works wonderfully after all these years, particularly after some modest changes to Court protocols a few years back helped streamline and bring clarity to the system as a whole.

But that hasn’t stopped the annual bevy of partisan fearmongering about West Virginia being a “judicial hellhole” and the dire need to “reform” the judicial system by creating a new appeals system from scratch. So, no doubt, West Virginians will once again find ourselves awash in this attempted brainwashing propaganda this legislative season. However, when one looks at the facts about our current Court system, and the entities and reasons behind these calls for a new appellate system, it is plain as day that West Virginia should not give over their hard-earned tax dollars for a system intended only to allow corporate bad actors to get away with harmful conduct.

Before I get to the facts, it is critical to understand that the puppet masters behind the calls for a new appellate court are always the same – namely large corporations, with the insurance industry being chief amongst them. Being held accountable in a court of law for their harmful conduct negatively impacts these companies’ bottom lines, so anything that can delay or deter that day of reckoning is seen as beneficial to their corporate profit-taking. And an intermediate appeals court would accomplish that very nicely, by making it more costly, time-consuming and difficult for the American public to obtain justice when they are wronged.

Accountability keeps us all safer, which helps us to best fulfill our human potential, by acting as a deterrent when people and corporations understand that they will face consequences if they unlawfully harm another. And straightforward, timely access to the Court system is fundamental to our American way of life. The fact that corporate America, and their paid-for political puppets, are the only one calling for an intermediate appeals court should, by itself, make ordinary West Virginians and small business owners very wary of the need for the same. But partisanship aside, the facts simply do not justify or remotely support spending the tens of millions of dollars of tax payer money that will be required to implement an intermediate appeals court.

West Virginia simply does not have an unmanageable litigation overload. Over the last 20 years, appeals have declined more than 67% in West Virginia. Civil case appeals account for just 13% of all appeals filed, and even those have declined 56% since 2004. In 2017, there were only 174 civil appeals filed. Civil case filings as a whole have also declined more than 10% since 2010.

Furthermore, appeal by right is guaranteed in West Virginia. Since 2011, the WSCA has not refused a single appeal. At the same time, according to the 2015 WVSCA Statistical Report, the Court has increased the number of decisions on the merits of a case from 670 in the 2006 – 2010 timeframe to 5,003 from 2011 - 2015, an increase of more than 700%.

If there is one thing I’ve come to deeply appreciate in my nearly two decades in the legal field it is the crucial importance of the Seventh Amendment right to trial by jury. I’ve come to see that right as being as fundamental to one’s right to protection of self and loved ones from the harmful forces in this world as the right to bear arms, if not more so. That gun won’t do your loved ones much good when you’ve been poisoned to death by some corporation’s decision to put out a drug it knew was unsafe or swindled out of your home by some unscrupulous Wall Street banker. But that trial by a jury of your fellow West Virginians sure can. So please remember the facts and the real reasons behind these calls for an intermediate court this Legislative season, and if you agree this is not a good idea, please contact your local West Virginia representatives and urge them to vote NO on an intermediate appeals court.