Intermediate court system wins House approval in WVa

By JOHN RABY Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A bill that would establish an intermediate court system in West Virginia cleared a key hurdle Tuesday when it won approval in the House of Delegates.

The House passed the bill on a 56-44 vote. It now goes back to the Senate to go over House changes. The Senate passed the original version of the bill Feb. 24. Both chambers have Republican supermajorities.

Republican House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, a Clay County lawyer who has opposed the legislation in the past, said he liked this bill because it strikes a balance and gives cases now pushed to the back of the court docket a chance to be heard.

“It relieves some of the backlog of the trial court and gives an access point for West Virginians who are looking to have disputes resolved,” Hanshaw said.

House Democrats and others said the intermediate court system would be wasteful spending and add another layer of government in a time of a tight state budget.

They argued the money is better spent in areas such as relieving an overburdened foster care system, helping senior citizens, or establishing drug and family courts or a court for abuse and neglect cases.

The bill has been introduced in each of the past several years only to fail to get past the House.

“I think it was Yogi Berra that said, ‘it’s deja vu all over again,'” said Delegate Chad Lovejoy, a Cabell County Democrat. “This is a court that we do not need and that we cannot afford.”

Lovejoy said state Supreme Court figures show it handled 790 appeals last year, the lowest in its recorded history. Included in that were 82 civil cases.

“To think that we have such a crushing caseload, that we need to expand the government, would not be a correct statement,” Lovejoy said.

Jonathan Mani, president of the West Virginia Association for Justice, which represents practicing attorneys, said lawmakers “put the wants of billion-dollar corporate special interests and their lobbyists ahead of the needs of West Virginia and the people who live here.”

Nine states currently have no intermediate court system.

Greg Thomas of the group Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse said West Virginia “has been in desperate need to improve its legal climate” and that the bill “will be another important step in the right direction.”

The new court would hear appeals of civil judgments from circuit courts as well as decisions from family courts and workers compensation rulings. It would not hear criminal cases.

The House version would create one panel of three judges starting in July 2022. Their salaries would be set at $142,500. Senate versions of the bill would have created two intermediate judicial districts.