Verdict Still Out On Intermediate Appeals Court Legislation

WHEELING — Judges on a proposed Intermediate Court of Appeals in West Virginia would be appointed and not elected under a bill presently being tweaked by the West Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee.

Committee members on Wednesday continued to amend Senate Bill 341, which initially called for the election of judges to the new court. Judges on other courts in the state are elected by voters on non-partisan ballots.

As it stands, the measure now provides for the establishment of a Northern District and a Southern District Court of Appeals in the state, each with three judges for a total of six to be appointed. A judicial appointment committee would send the names of judicial candidates to the sitting governor. The governor would choose a judge from the list, and the selected candidate would have to be approved by the Senate.

Sen. Michael Woelfel, D-Cabell, proposed an amendment Wednesday that would have placed an issue on the ballot in November asking voters if the judges should instead be elected. The amendment was rejected.

Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, said the state already does an exemplary job of filling judicial vacancies through judicial vacancy committee system.

“Taking the politics and the campaigning out of it is a respectable effort, and it’s good to bring that to this court as well,” he said. “Through the judicial vacancy system, we have a number of people look at a number of people, and they do a good job at that.”

An amendment offered by Sen. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, would stagger the time in office for the judges appointed to six, eight and 10 years. After this, all appointments would be for 10 years.

Weld successfully placed two amendments into the bill on Tuesday. The first would eliminate a requirement in the bill that the court have 180 days for its decision in a case.

Weld said existing rules in the courts already set reporting requirements for judges.

His second amendment would dictate that matters pertaining to election law be appealed directly to the State Supreme Court.

Sen. Michael Romano, D-Harrison, added an amendment requiring the judicial appointment committee to send the names of at least eight judicial candidates for appointment to the governor, and that no more than three of these could come from the same county. In addition, all three judges serving on the court would have to live in different Senate districts.

Rejected was an amendment from Romano seeking that civil court cases involving more than $250,000 be instead heard by the State Supreme Court, and another that no more than two of the three judges on the court be of the same political party.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, delayed an overall committee vote on the legislation as a result of the multiple changes. Members will instead receive and review a committee substitute bill today.