Supreme Court Chief Justice Evan Jenkins declined Tuesday to take a position on the proposed creation of an intermediate appeals court, saying the matter is the sole prerogative of the West Virginia Legislature.
“I know you would like me to express my personal opinion, and I won’t do that,” Jenkins said, responding to a question from Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, of the Senate Finance Committee.
“I am a believer in the constitution, and the constitution clearly gives the Legislature the prerogative to establish an intermediate appeals court,” Jenkins added. “It was our position last year — it is our position today — to neither advocate for or against the ICA [intermediate court of appeals].”
Jenkins did not appear before the Finance Committee when it took up the bill to create the intermediate appeals court on Feb. 18, saying Tuesday that he was not invited to participate.
The legislation, Senate Bill 275, is on passage stage in the Senate on Wednesday.
The Supreme Court did submit a fiscal note indicating that its share of costs for implementing an intermediate appeals court would be $8.8 million in the first year — funding that Jenkins said is not included in the Supreme Court’s $139.4 million funding request for the 2021-22 budget year.
In the court’s budget presentation Tuesday, Jenkins said that request is $3.9 million more than the court’s current budget. Half of that amount would cover judicial pay raises approved by the Legislature in 2020, most of which go into effect July 1.
The remainder of the increase is to fill 17 new positions, including 14 probation officers, needed to address growing numbers of West Virginians who are on probation.
“Each day, over 10,000 people wake up in West Virginia who are on probation,” he said.
Jenkins noted that the 2021-22 budget request actually is less than judicial branch budgets of $141 million in 2016-17 and 2017-18.
However, as Sen. Bill Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio, pointed out, the request is nearly $16 million above the court’s $124 million budget in 2019-20.
Jenkins said that year’s budget included a $10 million “giveback” to help balance the state budget in the midst of a financial crunch.
“The understanding was, we would get back, in 2021, to a more appropriate level,” the chief justice said.