Resolution proposed to study WV Supreme Court appellate rules - Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

Resolution proposed to study WV Supreme Court appellate rules

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Could there be an answer in sight to a lengthy debate of whether West Virginia needs an intermediate court of appeals? West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts thinks legislation proposed by House Speaker Rick Thompson could answer that question.

This legislation calls for a year-long study of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals rules of appellate procedure to see if these rules are working and if they are providing a fair and efficient appeals process.

Roberts joined Thompson in the Feb. 27 announcement. Both Roberts and Thompson said they think the rules are working but additionally said it will be a good idea to delve deeper and find out for sure.

"We want to make sure that West Virginia courts are fair and impartial," Thompson said. "We continue to hear from out-of-state companies and different organizations and different organizations that West Virginia's court system is not fair. … The Legislature wants to find out the truth."

The Mountain State has consistently ranked near the top of the American Tort Reform Association's Judicial Hellhole List, most recently ranking No. 2. 

The report states West Virginia has a lack of full appellate review, excessive awards and liability rules that are out of the mainstream. The report also says West Virginia "continues to be a haven for weak lawsuits by plaintiffs from other states."

Critics have called the list a "farce and a baseless attack on West Virginia," questioning how the list is created.

However, the creation of an appellate court and West Virginia's legal hellhole status has been up for debate for years, and the issue of an intermediate court has come up in the Legislature before.

In a released statement, Greg Thomas, executive director of the West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, said he was not happy with this resolution.

"What these ranking say is that major employers and others who have a national perspective see West Virginia as a bad place to try to do business," Thomas said. "Even so, our personal injury lawyer House Speaker, his friends in the House and a few lobbyists refuse to acknowledge that West Virginia needs to reform our legal system.

"Some argue this court would be expensive and some state Supreme Court justices have mentioned they already read over and issue a decision in every case.

"Yet, some still argue that the state does not have an automatic right to appeal.

"West Virginia is the only state in the nation that does not have an automatic right of appeal but the personal injury lawyer-led House of Delegates and their supporters have come together to say the state needs to spend legislators' time and taxpayers' dimes on continued study of the need for an intermediate appellate court in West Virginia," Thomas said.

And that's what officials hope to answer with this resolution— whether these appellate rules are in fact working.

"We want to see if this system is working before spending millions of dollars," Thompson said. "We don't want to waste West Virginian's taxpayer money. This study will tell us if we need to take more action."

If it is passed, the study will be taken up by the joint committee on government and finance.

Thompson said the reason the study is important is because it could affect West Virginia's economy.

"We want jobs for the people of West Virginia. It could be hurting business in West Virginia if it is not fair," Thompson said.

Roberts agreed.

"One of the things we have had a long tradition of talking about is making sure that justice is served and fairly delivered throughout West Virginia," he said. "I am honored that the speaker of the house and this group of fine legislators want to say, ‘let's take a look at the process to see if it is working."

"It only makes good sense to get to the bottom of this," he said.

However, Thomas disagrees. 

"What's the motivation here? The personal injury lawsuit industry loves to have a state where there is no automatic appeal - it puts a gun to the head of defendants to 'settle or else gamble on the decision of a lower court' on what may be very complicated legal issues , and it puts a fat wad of cash in the personal injury lawyers' pockets."

Other members who sponsored the bill are Majority Leader Brent Boggs, D-Braxton; Majority Whip Mike Caputo, D-Marion; Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison; Finance Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo; Speaker Pro Tem Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock; and delegates Bob Ashley, R-Roane; Kevin Craig, D-Cabell; John Ellem, R-Wood; Tim Manchin, D-Marion; Jim Morgan, D-Cabell; Amanda Pasdon, R-Monongalia; Daniel Poling, D-Wood; Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha; Peggy Smith, D-Lewis; and Josh Stowers, D-Lincoln.