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State's highest court shows big improvement

THIS year appears to be the busiest year ever in the history of the state Supreme Court. And that's great news for fairness and justice in West Virginia.  

The court has issued more than 1,300 decisions so far in 2013, compared to just 162 in 2010.

For years, the West Virginia Supreme Court had a reputation - in some cases deservedly so - of not giving the business community fair treatment. The court was accused of allowing forum shopping of friendly jurisdictions and slamming "deep-pocket" corporate defendants with large damage awards.

The court routinely refused to hear appeals of lower court decisions with no comment, leaving claimants with no idea of the legal justification for denial. The lack of transparency, along with several questionable decisions, sent a chill through the business community, preventing who knows how many reputable companies from investing in the state.

Thankfully, the Supreme Court is appearing much more professional of late. And thanks to new rules adopted in 2010, the lack of transparency in court reasoning is history. No longer are plaintiffs and defendants and the state's business and legal communities left to wonder why the court refused to hear an appeal.

"Now, every petition that comes before the court will get a written response," Justice Allen Loughry told the Daily Mail's Andrea Lannom. "I think that's a good change and I think people throughout the legal community speak very favorably of these changes."

True, and it's not just the legal community that speaks favorably of the change.

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

Some in the legal and business communities had pushed for an intermediary appellate court to help solve the problem of lack of judicial review. The Chamber was originally skeptical of the court's amended rules but decided to reserve judgment.

The Revised Rules of Appellate Procedure, adopted after public review, were designed to answer critics' concerns "without a vast increase in personnel, without any new judges and without a new layer of government that would delay justice."

So far, the rules seem to be working.

Let's hope justice and fairness prevail for all parties, and people around the world, including business investors, see that West Virginia is a safe state in which to invest.



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