By Matt Young, West Virginia Press Association
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Day two of the 2022 West Virginia Press Convention was highlighted by keynote addresses from both W.Va. Secretary of Tourism Chelsea Ruby, and Chief Justice of the state’s Intermediate Court of Appeals, Dan Greear. Both spoke on Aug. 5.
“It’s an honor to be here,” Greear began, before sharing some of his background with those in attendance.
Greear – a former state delegate – has served the House as both chief of staff and chief counsel. Between 2018 and 2021, Greear served as interim circuit judge before being appointed as the first Chief Justice of West Virginia’s Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA).
“It’s easy to talk about ‘a vision for the future’ with the Intermediate Court because that’s all we have,” Greear told those in attendance, in double-reference to the theme of the convention and the newness of the Intermediate Court.
“In West Virginia – particularly in West Virginia government – you don’t get to do a whole lot of firsts anymore,” Greear said. “I’m honored to be a part of something that’s new. And every time we do something there (in the Intermediate Court), it’s the first time we’ve done it. It’s a lot of new milestones and a very exciting time.”
“The Supreme Court has been very involved in setting up and building the foundation for our court under (former) Chief Justice (Evan) Jenkins,” Greear added. “In 2021, they established the ICA Advisory Council.”
The ICA became a functional court on July 1, 2022, and operates as a single district three-judge panel. Judges Thomas E. Scarr and Charles Lorensen serve alongside Greear on the panel. All three judges were appointed by Gov. Jim Justice on the recommendation of the Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission. The ICA has limited jurisdiction, and will hear civil cases, family court cases (except domestic violence cases), guardian/conservator cases, administrative law cases, health care authority certificate of need cases, and workers compensation cases.
“One of the significant changes in the last legislative session was the creation of a ‘50/50 presumption’ in child custody cases,” Greear noted. “In other words, the starting point is the assumption that if we have fit parents on both sides, they will split custody 50/50. There are a bunch of factors that can swing that one way or another, but we will start out with that presumption.”
Greear further explained that should a family court judge order anything other than a 50/50 split for any reason, an appeal to the ICA will then be automatically triggered, even prior to the case’s completion.
“That’s something brand new that didn’t exist in the Circuit Court previously,” Greear noted.
Day-two of the convention was capped off with a reception held in the Four Points by Sheraton’s Capitol City Suite B, where attendees had the opportunity to hear from Secretary of Tourism Chelsea Ruby.
After serving as commissioner for four years, Chelsea Ruby was appointed secretary of the West Virginia Department of Tourism in March 2021. With her appointment came the elevation of the state’s Tourism Office to that of a cabinet-level department. During her tenure as both commissioner and secretary, West Virginia’s tourism revenue has experienced unprecedented growth.
“One of the first things we did was try to figure out why our tourism revenue was declining when other states are all growing,” Ruby told those in attendance on Friday evening. “After a lot of research, we found that people didn’t know who we were. We weren’t on their list of places to visit. It wasn’t that they didn’t like us or they had a negative opinion – they just didn’t think about us. So we’ve reversed that.”
Launched in 2018, the “Almost Heaven” campaign has been a hugely successful marketing effort, adding to a nearly 15% increase in traveler spending during the three-year period preceding the COVID-19 pandemic. West Virginia was also named as ‘One of the Best Places to go in 2022” by Conde Nast Traveler.
“I would argue that there is nothing that has more unilateral support in the State of West Virginia right now than tourism,” Ruby said. “Every single legislator, every single county commissioner, every single mayor, every town council – it feels like each and every one of them is excited about tourism and trying to figure out what they can do to be a part of it.”
Ruby explained that the first step in rebuilding West Virginia’s reputation as a tourist destination was to become “competitive again,” saying, “We are back up there on the national stage.”
“The second thing is that we’re becoming an ‘It’ destination,” Ruby noted. “For 2022, we were recognized by Lonely Planet (Australian-based travel guide) as their top travel region. We were number two behind Iceland.”
“I told the governor I was okay being number two in the world behind Iceland,” Ruby joked, before adding that USA Today, Frommer’s, and Time Magazine all listed West Virginia as one of the “greatest places.”
“We’ve got a national buzz and an international buzz,” Ruby concluded. “And we’re going to keep coasting on that. But we’re not going to stop – we have to ensure that we continue to get on these lists.”