W.Va. Supreme Court Is Working to Rebuild Trust
Thomas Paine once said that “character is much easier kept than recovered.” Throughout 2018, events involving our State Supreme Court of Appeals rightfully shook our citizens’ confidence in the integrity of our State’s highest Court. However, 2019 is a new year and we have a new Supreme Court that includes Justice Evan Jenkins and myself, who were elected in last November’s special election, and Justice John Hutchison who was appointed by Governor Jim Justice late last year. In recent months, our State’s newly constituted Supreme Court, under the direction of Chief Justice Beth Walker, has taken significant steps to “recover the character” of our court system.
First, fulfilling our commitment to establish clear guidelines to prevent future abuses of our citizens’ hard-earned tax dollars, we have adopted detailed written policies to establish needed safeguards. These policies include the placement of all court vehicles under the state’s motor fleet guidelines, and adoption of an Asset Management Policy, a Purchasing Card Policy and a General Accounting policy to ensure fiscal oversight of state property, funds and purchasing by the Court. The Court has also adopted new Computer and Removable Media Policies governing state computers and related equipment.
These policies will help to ensure needed oversight of the purchase and use of state furnishings, vehicles, computers and property to guard against waste and avoid the type of abuses that shook our citizens’ confidence in their Court system. These policies are available for public review on the Court’s website.
Secondly, we developed a frugal and fiscally responsible budget for the Court system which was adopted by the Legislature. The Court spent considerable time and effort undertaking a line by line review of its budget for the upcoming Fiscal Year beginning July 1, 2019, and reduced its budget request to the Legislature by more than $15 million or nearly 11 percent. This includes a reduction in anticipated spending of more than $5 million and an additional reduction of $10 million in requested funding made possible by the anticipated use of funds left over from previous budget years.
The Court worked with the Legislature in a cooperative manner this year to reduce the Court’s budget from $139,759,670 for the current fiscal year ending June 30, 2019, to $124,322,344 for the upcoming fiscal year beginning July 1. Despite the smaller budget, the important work of our Court System will continue unabated. Through increased efficiencies and use of previously appropriated funds, the crucial work of the Supreme Court of Appeals, Magistrate Courts, Family Courts, Circuit Courts, Drug Courts and Probation Officers in all fifty-five counties throughout our state will be efficiently and adequately funded.
Third, the Court is continuing its work to increase transparency and openness throughout our Court System. The Court is moving forward with a phased-in implementation of the Court’s e-filing system to make filing and review of court records more efficient, open and accessible. In addition, the Justices have been visiting schools and other groups across our state to discuss the work of the Court, and the Supreme Court is holding oral arguments at locations outside of Charleston so that citizens can view their Supreme Court in action.
Finally, we and our dedicated staff members have redoubled our efforts to do the job we are Constitutionally charged to do — administer justice in a fair, impartial, efficient and timely manner. We recognize the old adage that “justice delayed is justice denied,” and we have rolled up our sleeves and spent long hours considering and deciding the important legal cases that affect the lives of our fellow West Virginians. As a result, the Court’s caseload is essentially up to date and our docket is being managed in an efficient and timely manner.
These are just a few of the important steps that your new Supreme Court of Appeals has taken, and continues to take, to regain your confidence in our Judiciary. We recognize that restoring character and confidence is not an easy task and will not happen overnight. We also understand that each day that we manage your hard-earned tax dollars frugally and responsibly, conduct the Court’s business with integrity, openness and transparency, and administer justice in a fair and impartial manner consistent with our Constitution and the rule of law, we are one day closer to truly regaining public confidence in our Court. We are committed to continuing this work and we believe that, working together, we WILL restore your trust in your West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
Armstead is a justice on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.