Flawed laws should be corrected
Appeals court justices sometimes have to grit their teeth when issuing rulings that go against every fiber of their ethical beings — but clearly are called for under existing laws. That may have been the case last week when the West Virginia Supreme Court decided a case involving a young woman allegedly abused sexually by her late father.
The Mercer County man died before he could go on trial, but not before his parental rights to his then-minor daughter were terminated by a circuit court.
After he died, a fight ensured over his estate. He and his wife had divorced. He left no will. A court awarded shares of his estate to four people, including three with the same last name as the deceased man.
But the daughter he allegedly abused got nothing.
Last week, in a 3-2 ruling, the state’s highest court determined that was proper. Court papers did not make clear what relationship the four people who did get shares of the estate had to the deceased.
Justices Robin Jean Davis, Allen Loughry and Beth Walker agreed with the ruling. Justices Menis Ketchum and Margaret Workman dissented, with Workman summing up how many Mountain State residents probably feel: Even though the father’s parental rights were terminated, “her rights as his child and decedent remain intact.”
But the three other justices disagreed. “While we are sympathetic to (the daughter’s) circumstances, the decision of the court must be guided by the law and not our sympathies,” wrote Davis.
Indeed. It is not the court’s responsibility to make law, only to interpret it.
Still, as the majority justices suggested, the situation cries out for an amendment to state law. A great injustice has been done here, and West Virginia legislators should not allow it to happen again. A thorough review of laws regarding children’s rights is imperative. Corrections should be made at the Legislature’s very first opportunity.