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Chamber, group split on more Supreme Court changes

The state Chamber of Commerce and West Virginian Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse agree the state Supreme Court's changes to its appeal procedures have improved the legal climate.

But while the chamber is optimistic the rule changes have given West Virginia citizens an automatic right of appeal, Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse says the rules still haven't gone far enough.

"They're giving you an explanation of why they're not taking up the case, which is different than taking up the case and hearing it again," said Greg Thomas, the group's director.

Both the chamber and WVCALA originally opposed the Supreme Court's 2010 rule changes, which guaranteed a written explanation each time a high court rejects an appeal without a hearing.

Instead, they wanted West Virginia lawmakers to establish an intermediary court to review cases before they reach state Supreme Court justices.

Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, said his group was initially skeptical of the amended rules but decided to reserve judgment until they were able to see how it worked out.

"The feedback we're getting is the change in rules has created an absolute right of appeal in West Virginia," Roberts said.

He said the new rules closely mirror those used by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, known as one of the most business-friendly courts in the country, and chamber members have been pleased with the quality of the state Supreme Court's written decisions.

Thomas, however, believes the state still needs to adopt an intermediary court.

"We don't want to discount what they've done. But we think it's disingenuous to act like this has solved our problem," he said.

"I just don't see any way our national reputation will get better until we start to get in-step with the way other states handle appeals."

Previous attempts by the Legislature to establish an intermediate appeals court have failed. And while Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, once was lead sponsor of a bill that would have created an intermediary court, Thomas holds out little hope the Legislature will establish the court anytime soon.

Newly elected House Speaker Tim Miley previously opposed the idea when he served as House Judiciary chairman.

Thomas still predicts the court will become an issue in next year's mid-term elections.

"If the leaders of the Legislature won't fix our broken legal system, perhaps the voters will," he said.

On Monday, Supreme Court clerk Rory Perry told lawmakers the state Supreme Court is on track to issue more than 1,300 merits decisions by the end of 2013. The court issued just 162 decisions before the rule change in 2010.

He said the system reduces delay in issuing opinions and increases the court's transparency to the public, since each appeal receives a written reply. Most feedback has been positive.

"We believe that this system is thorough, it's fair, it takes into account the needs of due process for appeals," Perry said.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or zack.harold@dailymail.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.


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