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Seven months before the West Virginia Intermediate Court of Appeals is to begin hearing cases, justices and staff in the state Supreme Court are well into the process of taking stock of judicial, financial and material resources to put legs under the new judicial bench.

That process will include the announcement Tuesday morning of the three people who will serve as judges during the court’s inaugural term, according to a news release from the Governor’s Office on Monday afternoon.

Prior to Monday’s news release, Supreme Court Justice Evan Jenkins told the Gazette-Mail that the Supreme Court had not received any communication from the Governor’s Office about when Gov. Jim Justice might make his announcement.

The Legislature established the intermediate court this year after at least five years’ worth of failed attempts to set up the court that will take up certain appeals from family courts and circuit courts.

Last week, the Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission submitted to Justice a list of eight people it recommended to serve on the three-member court. Judges will serve 10-year terms and be paid $142,500 annually.

The people Justice appoints Tuesday will serve respective 2½-, 4½- and 6½-year terms starting in May.

Elections for subsequent judges will be staggered in 2024, 2026 and 2028, and judges elected in those years will be the first to serve 10-year terms.

In addition to the names of the soon-to-be judges, the Governor’s Office also has the Supreme Court’s budget request for the 2023 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The request includes $5,084,026 to fund the intermediate court’s first year of operation, Jenkins said.

Lawmakers heard differing estimates as to how much the court would cost during the 2021 regular legislative session. One estimate was as high as $5.7 million per year, and another went as low as $3.6 million during the first year and $2 million each year after.

Jenkins said the Supreme Court was operating on data from the Legislature’s Division of Regulatory and Fiscal Affairs, which estimated that the new court would cost $5,159,563 during its first year of operations.

The price tag the Supreme Court submitted to the Governor’s Office is about $75,000 less than the estimation used during the legislative session.

“It was very important to the justices and the court that we stick as close as possible to what we anticipated the cost would be because we did not want there to be any surprise by the Legislature or feeling that the court is growing the budget beyond what we anticipated,” Jenkins said. “I’m happy to say that our budget is right on track with almost precisely what we anticipated the cost would be.”

West Virginia’s judiciary is a unified court system, meaning the administrative functions of all courts are managed by the state’s five Supreme Court justices, and the court’s administrative and clerical staff.

That means the work of determining how many clerks the intermediate judges will need and where they are going to be able to meet when they convene is in the hands of the high court, Jenkins said.

Justice John Hutchison will take over as chief justice in 2022 and will continue to oversee the establishment of the intermediate court.

Justices and court administrators and staff are focusing on four areas of development for the intermediate court: setting up an e-filing system; staffing and personnel; establishing procedures; and physical locations where the court can convene, Jenkins said.

The court is accepting bids to provide support for parties to electronically file appeals with the intermediate court, a service that is not available for appeals to the Supreme Court, Jenkins said.

“We hope, in the near future, we can also have e-filing at the Supreme Court level,” Jenkins said. “Not only is this case-management e-filing system going to apply to the [Intermediate Court of Appeals], we are very ambitious that this will have broader application to make the entire system of appellate practice in West Virginia work more efficiently.”

The law establishing the court allows the judges to convene in any judicial facility that is equipped to meet their needs. Additionally, a bill passed during a special session in October allows the intermediate judges to hear cases virtually at their discretion, an option that already is in practice in other courts throughout the state.

“We are wanting this court to be accessible, regardless of where the parties are located around the state,” Jenkins said.

The judges also will be able to hire their own staff, including law clerks, once they’re sworn into office on May 1.

The law establishing the intermediate court allows the Supreme Court to “pluck” cases pending in the intermediate court, especially if those cases are time sensitive.

The intermediate court will consider appeals that now go to the Supreme Court, the Workers’ Compensation Review Board or the West Virginia Insurance Commission’s Office of Judges. The Office of Judges will be terminated, and the Workers’ Compensation Review Board will be expanded.

Seven types of cases may be appealed, but not automatically, to the intermediate court:

  • Final judgments of circuit court judges in civil cases.
  • Final judgments of family court judges.
  • Final judgments of circuit court judges in guardianship and conservatorship matters.
  • Judgments in administrative appeals, which, by law, are filed in Kanawha County Circuit Court.
  • Decisions by the West Virginia Health Care Authority regarding certificates of need.
  • Decisions from the Office of Judges in the West Virginia Insurance Commission, before that office is terminated.
  • Final orders of the Workers’ Compensation Board of Review issued after June 30, 2022.

Cases that would be automatically appealed to the Supreme Court, and bypass the intermediate court altogether, include criminal, juvenile, child abuse and neglect, and mental hygiene, as well as certified questions of law from circuit and federal courts.

In the bill the Legislature passed in October, lawmakers ensured that appeals in domestic violence petitions will go from local family courts to county circuit courts, keeping the current appeals system in those cases intact. The bill the Legislature passed during the regular session would have made it so those appeals bypassed circuit court.

After the intermediate court issues a ruling in a given case, that case may be appealed to the Supreme Court.

The intermediate court will begin taking appeals on July 1.

Lacie Pierson covers politics. She can be reached at 304-348-1723 or lacie.pierson

@hdmediallc.com. Follow @laciepierson on Twitter.

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