With less than a year before the West Virginia Intermediate Court of Appeals is set to begin operation, the Legislature is in the process of tweaking at least one part of the appeals process.
Lawmakers are considering a bill that would restore the means for domestic violence orders to be appealed from family court to circuit court before being appealed to the intermediate court.
On Tuesday, the House rejected a proposed amendment that would have limited the circumstances in which intermediate court judges could hold virtual court proceedings. House Vice Judiciary Chair Tom Fast, R-Fayette, proposed the amendment he said was requested by Supreme Court Chief Justice Evan Jenkins.
Fast argued that without the amendment, the law that established the court earlier this year potentially allows the court to become a virtual-only court.
Fast said it was important to avoid a virtual-only court because there was significance in the face-to-face interaction with the judges when a case is being argued.
He said even though the new law set up the Supreme Court as the administrative agency for the intermediate court, the Legislature had jurisdiction to make the rule because the Legislature created the intermediate court and is still refining it.
“We are creating the policy,” Fast said. “We are creating the rules. We are creating the atmosphere right now for the Intermediate Court of Appeals.”
Delegate Barry Bruce, R- Greenbrier, supported the amendment, saying having a face-to-face hearing in any appeal is the right of every West Virginia citizen.
Fast’s amendment wasn’t supported by House Judiciary Chair Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, who said giving the court discretion as to when to hold virtual hearings made for a more accessible and efficient appeals process and was in keeping with separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches.
“A lot of the consternation surrounding this bill initially and over the past several years that we’ve debated it was, is this going to, in fact slow the administration of justice?” Capito said. “If we absolutely full-stop say no hearing, no matter how minimal, no hearing can be held [virtually] unless there are health, safety and exigent circumstances, then we’re going to have a logjam, I believe, in the Intermediate Court of Appeals.”
Delegate Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, said the House should reject the amendment, saying even though the Legislature created the intermediate court, he trusted the judges to determine when to have hearings in-person and when to have them virtually.
“The vice chariman’s right, we created it,” Steele said. “But we can’t micromanage it going forward.”
No such amendment was presented in the Senate Tuesday.
The Intermediate Court of Appeals is set to become operational in July 2022. Monday was the application deadline for judges who wish to be appointed to the court.
The intermediate court will be comprised of a single panel of three judges, appointed by Gov. Jim Justice, who will hear certain appeals from family courts and circuit courts throughout the state.
Following the initial appointments, elections for subsequent judges will be staggered in 2024, 2026 and 2028, so the judges Justice appoints will have 2-year, 4-year, and 6-year terms, respectively.
After the elections, an intermediate court judge’s term will be 10 years.