Why is the Legislature considering instituting an Intermediate Court of Appeals again? Couldn’t they use the time to better West Virginia? After all, our House of Delegates rejected the proposal the last two years, so isn’t that enough? Hum.
Seems like a number of you have forgotten my impeccable logic last year (Jan 27, 2019), so allow me to say it differently: I have heard no argument that leads me to believe we need an Intermediate Court of Appeals. For those still questioning this conclusion, please read on.
Pre-2010, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals chose cases to review from our circuit courts without explanation. Losers didn’t have an absolute right to an appeal unless the court wanted to hear the case. Many, including me, didn’t think that was fair. It also allowed circuit judges, historically, more power because criminal defendants didn’t have that automatic right to review.
But, in 2010, new rules were adopted requiring the Supreme Court to provide rejected cases with a written explanation of why it was rejected. So, for the past decade, everyone who wished for it has had an effective right to an appeal.
That’s the first reason we don’t need an intermediate court.
Secondly, the court’s caseload has gone down. Workers compensation cases used to constitute 65 percent of their workload in 1999, but that dropped to 22 percent by 2014. What changed? Workers compensation was privatized.
Not only that, but total Supreme Court filings declined from 3,569 new cases in 1999 to 1,524 in 2012. They further dropped to 1,147 cases by 2018. We need not add capacity to our court system when the workload is decreasing.
The third thing to consider is cost. This year, cost of adding the court to the state would be $7.6 million the first year, $5.3 million the second and $3.8 in subsequent years.
So, proponents argue that, even though the Supreme Court’s case load has been reduced by two-thirds and even though everyone now has a right to a written response from the Supreme Court on appeal, we should spend $3.8 million a year — at a minimum — on the proposal.
And these proponents are fiscally conservative Republicans?
I suppose some see this as pocket change, when compared with the state’s $4.636 billion fiscal year 2020 budget. After all, what’s $3,800,000 in a $4,636,000,000 budget anyway? That’s only $2 per resident.
On the other hand, I see it as the kind of thinking that got us to a $4.636 billion budget in the first place. And, to me, that’s $2 which is not added to the approximately $2,547 the state spends per resident per year now.
Not only that, but our current system provides more timely decisions.
When a circuit court case is appealed to an intermediate court before it can be appealed to the state Supreme Court, it takes more time than appealing directly to the Supreme Court. And that time is money, thanks mainly to billable hours of attorneys.
While larger corporations may not mind paying more in attorney fees, especially if they make it up by avoiding judgments, the same is not true for the other side.
Plaintiff attorneys are mostly for keeping the process streamlined, because they effectively front the legal fees for the plaintiff. Thus, they get their cash back quicker without the additional court step.
On the other hand, it’s speculated that larger corporations advocate for an intermediate court to drive up costs for complainants and, as a result, discourage lawsuits with the argument they want to assure everyone has an opportunity to appeal.
It’s said we are the largest population state without an intermediate court system, and we are. OK, but maybe we’re not large enough.
No, I’m not against establishing an Intermediate Court of Appeals. Let’s just not do it now, when it’s not needed.
In the meantime, lets tackle the state’s real problems.