This editorial appeared in the Charleston Gazette-Mail on Feb. 5:
As West Virginians get a look at legislative priorities for the upcoming session, there’s one bill they can bank on being filed: legislation seeking to establish an intermediate court of appeals.
It happens every year, and the measure has come fairly close to passing in recent sessions.
This is one of those issues that actually has little to do with West Virginia, and should be a nonstarter with Republicans looking to blow a hole in the budget by eliminating the state income tax.
Adding a layer between circuit courts and the West Virginia Supreme Court might sound like a good idea. An intermediate court between the two is established in many states. But, as has been seen time and again, what works for some doesn’t always work for West Virginia.
The Mountain State is one of 10 in the U.S. without a separate court of appeals. Fewer than 2 million people live in each of the states in that category.
West Virginia’s population is less than 1.8 million, and court appeals here have dropped by nearly 70% over the past 20 years. The Supreme Court, it seems, is not overwhelmed with cases.
Meanwhile, creating a new court system would cost millions of taxpayer dollars. An appellate court would be another level of bureaucracy for cases that will wind up in the Supreme Court anyway. Many people who work in and with the court system say an intermediate court is unnecessary.
So why the constant push? Ask who would benefit from court cases taking longer and costing more money?
An intermediate court is an ideal place for corporate and big-business interests to slow-roll cases. They’ve got the deep pockets to stall these things out. Plaintiffs, mostly ordinary West Virginians, often don’t. If spending more money to slow a case can bankrupt a plaintiff and avoid a large settlement, it’s a win for corporate interests.
There are other arguments to be made about the issue, but it’s really all about the money. Simple as that.
If justice were being delayed because court systems statewide were overwhelmed, that would be one thing. It’s hard to support more government, which will cost the people and the state, to give yet another break to outside interests.