West Virginia is currently one of only nine states without an intermediate court of appeals (ICA), leaving the five justices of the Supreme Court of Appeals with no filter between them and the 800+ cases that pour in annually from the state’s 55 circuit courts.
This workload has consequences: ILR’s recent research found that of the 861 merit decisions issued by the Supreme Court of Appeals in 2016, just 110 were delivered as signed opinions. The remainder came in the form of short memoranda—a measure that many observers in the legal community view as giving short shrift to important cases and leaving the state without a complete body of written law.
Thankfully, earlier today the West Virginia Senate passed SB341, a bill that would create an ICA and bring the state closer to the national mainstream. ILR and other civil justice groups have long called for the creation of an ICA as a necessary measure to ensure substantive appellate review for litigants in Mountain State courts.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Supreme Court of Appeals has proven to be a vocal opponent of the ICA, having publicly claimed that such a court would be a poor use of taxpayer money. To support their argument, the justices released an unsolicited fiscal note on the bill two weeks ago, estimating the annual cost of the ICA at over $10 million.
Many questioned this figure, which is more than twice the $5 million estimate provided by a 2011 version of the ICA bill. Moreover, even this inflated number pales in comparison to the $141 million budget administered by the Supreme Court in fiscal year 2018, itself just over three percent of the state budget.
In short, even the much higher figure cited in the Supreme Court’s fiscal note seems to be a bargain price for ensuring that litigants’ appeals receive full consideration in West Virginia.
We urge the House to pass SB341 as soon as possible, clearing the way for Governor Justice to sign the bill and take a much-needed step to shore up the foundations of the appellate review process in his state.