House Speaker Rick Thompson on Wednesday called for a yearlong study of the state Supreme Court's appellate procedures, following complaints from groups outside West Virginia that this state's courts are not providing fair treatment for all.
Thompson and 15 other delegates, both Democrats and Republicans, introduced a resolution calling for the study during Wednesday's floor session. Thompson assigned it to the House Rules Committee.
"The Legislature wants to find out what's the truth," Thompson said. "We want to make sure West Virginia courts are fair and impartial."
The study is meant to analyze state Supreme Court procedures adopted in December 2010 guaranteeing a written response on every case filed for appeal in that court, even if justices decide against hearing the case.
While the rules stop short of guaranteeing appeals for every case, the Supreme Court now lets each appellant know why their case will not be granted time before the high court.
The rules change came after a judicial reform panel formed in 2009 by then-Gov. Joe Manchin recommended the state set up an intermediate appellate court to cut down on the number of cases going before the state Supreme Court.
Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time and lead sponsor of a bill that would have created an intermediary court.
Critics contended setting up an intermediate court would cost too much. Manchin's panel estimated it would cost about $8 million per year, but justices suggested it could be as much as $15 million.
Kessler said Wednesday he believes a review of the Supreme Court's new rules would be prudent before the state again considers adding a layer to its court system.
"Before we do it, let's see how current rules are working," he said.
Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, R-Putnam, currently is lead sponsor of a bill that would set up intermediate appellate courts in the state.
Kessler said everything he's heard from the legal community indicates the new procedures are working satisfactorily.
Despite the rule changes, Americans for Tort Reform still listed West Virginia as the nation's second-worst "judicial hellhole." The group cites the state's lack of an intermediate appellate court as one of the main causes for that rating.