The West Virginia Association for Justice today denounced West Virginia State Senate for its passage of SB 275, which expands West Virginia’s court system with a new intermediate court that the state does not need. The new court will waste millions of the state’s limited tax dollars annually.
“Appeals have declined nearly 70 percent over the last 20 years. When the case load is just one-third what it was, you don’t expand our judicial branch with more judges, more staff and millions in annual expenses. It’s fiscally irresponsible and it’s wrong,” said Kristina Thomas Whiteaker, president of the West Virginia Association for Justice.
“What is more outrageous is that our State Senate is creating a whole new layer of courts and wasting our tax dollars as a handout to billion-dollar corporations and big insurance. It’s about helping them increase their profits at the expense our rights and our tax dollars. If there was any doubt about that, it was eliminated Friday when the Senate refused to expand the intermediate court’s jurisdiction to include criminal appeals. The intermediate court is all about protecting corporate profits, but does nothing to protect a wrongfully convicted West Virginian’s liberty.”
The corporate and insurance special interests pushing for the intermediate court want it limited to civil appeals. Those cases account for just 13 percent of the cases filed. In 2018, there were only 155 filed.
“You don’t create a whole new layer of government and spend millions to address 13 percent of the case load,” said Whiteaker.
West Virginia is one of 10 states without an active intermediate court because the state’s caseload does not justify the cost to taxpayers.
The appellate caseload has declined by nearly 70 percent since 2000.
At the same time, rules implemented by the West Virginia Supreme Court in 2011 guarantee that every case is heard on appeal.
“We have limited tax dollars. Those dollars should be spent where they’re needed. We need to fix our roads. We need to improve services for our seniors and our children. We need to improve veterans’ services. We need to improve our schools and restore full funding to our colleges and universities.”
“West Virginia lawmakers’ first priority should be the West Virginia constituents they were elected to represent—not finding ways to help corporate special interests line their pockets at the expense of tax payers.”
GET the FACTS
One in five states does not have an active intermediate court.
— West Virginia and eight other states have no intermediate court
— The North Dakota Boondoggle: The North Dakota legislature established that state’s intermediate court in 1987. In 33 years, that court has heard of total of just 37 cases. It has not heard a single appeal since 2007.
Total appeals have declined by nearly 70 percent, from 3,569 in 1999 to only 1,139 in 2018. Appeals have declined at a rate four times the national average. (2018 WVSCA Statistical Report)
There were just 155 civil case appeals in 2018, down from 402 civil appeals in 2004—a decline of more than 60 percent.
— The out-of-state special interests behind the push for an intermediate court cite the court’s civil caseload, yet civil appeals for tort cases, contract cases and property make up just 13 percent of the Supreme Court’s cases.
Appeal by right is guaranteed. Since 2011, the West Virginia Supreme Court has not refused a single appeal. At the same time, it has increased the number of decisions on the merits from just 670 from 2006 – 2010 to 5,003 from 2011 – 2015, an increase of more than 700 percent. (2015 WVSCA Statistical Report)
The opinion piece by the West Virginia Association for Justice was shared by the West Virginia Press Association to its member newspapers.