Groups debate proposed new West Virginia court

PARKERSBURG — Two groups in West Virginia are on the opposite ends of the governor’s proposal to create an intermediate court of appeals

Gov. Jim Justice’s call on Wednesday to create the new court is favored by the West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse but opposed by the West Virginia Association for Justice.

“The truth is the proposed intermediate court is nothing more than the leadership’s reward to the corporate and insurance lobbyists for the millions funneled into this state in campaign and dark money contributions,” Stephen P. New, president of the Association for Justice, said.

“These special interests have lied to our lawmakers. There is not one ounce of evidence that proves that adding an intermediate court of appeals would improve our economy or business climate,” New said. “The only new jobs that will be created will be the six new judges and their staff added to the state payroll.”

Justice proposed the intermediate appellate court during his third State of the State speech on the Legislature’s opening day on Wednesday.

“It’s time to create an intermediate court of appeals in West Virginia,” the governor said. “It’s another step forward to instill, to restoring honor and integrity back to the court system.”

Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse also will support seat-belt admissibility in civil cases and medical monitoring in addition to the new court, Executive Director Jordan Burgess said.

“For years, West Virginia has been the only state in the nation to not have an automatic right of appeal,” Burgess said. “West Virginia is the largest state to not have an intermediate appellate court and the lack of such court has been a contributing factor to West Virginia being on the American Tort Reform Association’s Judicial Hellhole List.”

The intermediate court isn’t needed and contrary to the governor’s position on smaller government, according to New.

“Small states like West Virginia don’t have intermediate courts because our caseloads do not justify the expense,” New said. “States with intermediate courts had to create them because their supreme courts had unmanageable workloads. We don’t have that problem.”

Appeals have dropped more than 67 percent over the last 20 years, he said.

“Why would we expand the government by creating a whole new court with more judges, more staff and millions in expenses, when the caseload is just one-third of what it once was?” New said.

Calling it more outrageous, New said is corporate and insurance lobbyists wanting the new court just for the civil case appeals.

“Those cases account for just 13 percent of the cases filed. In 2017, there were only 174 filed,” New said. “You don’t create a whole new layer of government and spend millions to address 13 percent of the caseload.”