Bill calls for close look at appellate rules

CHARLESTON – A bill calling for a year-long study of the state Supreme Court’s new appellate rules, introduced in the House of Delegates, was co-sponsored by two Wood County delegates.

On Wednesday, House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, introduced the legislation, House Concurrent Resolution 44, to determine whether the Supreme Court is providing litigants with a fair, effective and efficient appeals process.

“After lengthy review of the state’s civil justice system by an independent commission, the state Supreme Court enacted significant new appellate rules that ensure a review and written decision on each appeal filed with that court, yet critics outside West Virginia continue to attack our courts, calling them unfair,” Thompson said. “I would like for the Legislature to thoroughly examine the new appellate rules and their effect on civil procedure.”

The bill was co-sponsored by Wood County Delegates John Ellem, R-10th, and Daniel Poling, D-10th, along with a dozen other delegates.

Ellem said he was asked to sign on to the bill by a representative of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce who wanted to address apparent discrepancies in West Virginia’s legal system.

“They were tired of out-of-state lawyers and groups bashing the state’s legal system,” Ellem said.

Ellem hopes this study will locate issues that need to be addressed in the appellate rules that lawmakers can address directly and fix.

“We want to do a definitive study to counteract the negative stereotypes our courts have gotten,” he said. “We want to have something to put forward to address anything that needs addressed.”

In announcing the resolution, Thompson was joined by West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts.

“This is the kind of initiative West Virginia businesses want to see coming from our Legislature,” Roberts said. “Our members will be encouraged that lawmakers are working to ensure our state’s court system treats everyone fairly. I hope that this measure receives further bipartisan support as it moves through the legislative process.”

Thompson noted the Legislature has adopted revisions to state laws surrounding civil litigation, including laying the groundwork for the creation of the state’s new business docket within the circuit court system.

“The Supreme Court and the Legislature have taken numerous steps to address the litigation-related issues in West Virginia and to make the state’s business climate welcoming,” Thompson said. “It’s time to find out exactly what is causing such criticism to continue and address it.”

Ellem said he is planning to sponsor a bill for the creation of an intermediate court of appeals, which would be set up to operate between the circuit court level and the state Supreme Court level. The proposal has the support of the Republican caucus.

However, that effort has nothing to do with the study proposal, he said.