Opinion: W.Va. Senate should reject SB 275, spend the money on critical programs and infrastructure

WV Association for Justice say state lawmakers want to waste millions on unnecessary intermediate court

Release from the West Virginia Association for Justice

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Association for Justice today urged Senate Finance to reject legislation to expand West Virginia’s court system with an intermediate court the state does not need.  The new court would waste millions of the state’s limited tax dollars annually.

“Just a few weeks ago, Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair spoke to the West Virginia Press Association’s Legislative Lookahead.  He told them that he wanted to make state government ‘lean and mean as possible.’  He said that he would ‘focus on savings throughout our budget’ and focus on the services that West Virginians need.  If so, then why is Senate Finance taking up a bill that would add a new layer to our court system that we don’t need and that will cost West Virginia taxpayers millions every year?  It’s hypocritical, and it’s wrong,” said Kristina Thomas Whiteaker, president of the West Virginia Association for Justice.

“You don’t expand the government by creating a whole new court with more judges, more staff and millions in expenses, when the case load is just a fraction of what it once was.”

West Virginia is one of 10 states without an active intermediate court because the state’s caseload does justify the cost to taxpayers.  The appellate caseload has declined by nearly 70 percent since 2000.  New rules implemented by the West Virginia Supreme Court in 2011 guarantee that automatic right of appeal exists.

“What’s more even outrageous is that the corporate and insurance lobbyists demanding this new court want it just for the civil case appeals.  Those cases account for just 13 percent of the cases filed.  In 2018, there were only 155 filed.  You don’t create a whole new layer of courts and spend millions to address 13 percent of the case load.”

“We have limited tax dollars.  That money should be spent where it’s needed.  We need to fix our roads.  We need to improve services for our seniors and our children.  We need to improve veterans services.  We need to make our schools better and restore full funding to our colleges and universities.” 

“Senator Blair and his Senate Finance have the power to make a real difference in the lives of West Virginia families.  They should focus on what those families need–not helping corporate special interests line their pockets at the expense of tax payers.  That begins by rejecting SB 275.”

Get the Facts

One in five states does not have an active intermediate court.

·        West Virginia and eight other states have no intermediate court

·        The North Dakota Boondoggle: The North Dakota legislature established that state’s intermediate court in 1987.  In 33 years, that court has heard of total of just 37 cases.  It has not heard a single appeal since 2007.

Total appeals have declined by nearly 70 percent, from 3,569 in 1999 to only 1,139 in 2018.  Appeals have declined at a rate four times the national average. (2018 WVSCA Statistical Report)

There were just 155 civil case appeals in 2018, down from 402 civil appeals in 2004—a decline of more than 60 percent.

The out-of-state special interests behind the push for an intermediate court cite the court’s civil caseload, yet civil appeals for tort cases, contract cases and property make up just 13 percent of the Supreme Court’s cases. 

Appeal by right is guaranteed.  Since 2011, the West Virginia Supreme Court has not refused a single appeal.  At the same time, it has increased the number of decisions on the merits from just 670 from 2006 – 2010 to 5,003 from 2011 – 2015, an increase of more than 700 percent.  (2015 WVSCA Statistical Report) 

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