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Justices rightly blast frivolous legal appeals

THE West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has been reluctant to grant automatic appeals of verdicts in civil lawsuits. Justices did, however, rewrite their rules to make appeals easier.

On the second anniversary of that reform, Chief Justice Menis Ketchum reviewed the appeals and found many of them lacking.

"There are numerous appeals being filed where there is no reasonable basis for the appeal -- in other words, there's a lot of frivolous appeals being filed," Ketchum told the Daily Mail's Ry Rivard.

Substandard work is another problem.

"We're seeing a lot of appeals -- numerous appeals -- where there's no citation of legal authority for the argument and where there is just mere skeleton argument, where the argument is just thrown together haphazard and where the appendix record is not done properly," Ketchum said.

The chief justice is not alone in criticizing the drop in quality of the appeals.

In a decision issued on Nov. 15, Justice Thomas McHugh wrote that while the rules on appeals have changed, "nothing has changed as to the professional responsibility of lawyers to proceed only on meritorious issues."

The chief justice laid down the law this month. In an order to lawyers, Ketchum cited 16 common errors in appeals, including "briefs that appear to be pieced together in a hurried manner by cutting and pasting memoranda."

There are 16 common errors in appeals? There should not even be one. Good grief, these are briefs that are being sent to the highest court in the state judicial system.

Clients pay thousands of dollars in fees or offer one-third or more of any settlement or award to these lawyers, and some of the lawyers are merely cutting and pasting their appeals.

In sports this is called phoning it in.

That is unacceptable. And it undermines the case for automatic appeals in West Virginia.

The people deserve better from the legal profession. In raising the bar for the Bar, Chief Justice Ketchum and his associates are serving West Virginians well. If this doesn't work, perhaps sanctions against sloppy lawyers are in order.


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