W.Va. judicial reform panel submits report

Chris Dickerson Nov. 16, 2009, 11:15am


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) - West Virginia needs a mid-level appeals court to lighten the caseload of the state Supreme Court, according to a judicial reform panel report.

Also in the Independent Commission on Judicial Reform report released Sunday night, the group did not recommend an end to the partisan election of judges. It did, however, suggest the state study the feasibility of a creating a business court.

The 151-page report also suggested finding more uniformity and openness in how governors fill judicial vacancies.

The 10-member panel's suggestion of a new level of court would be a statewide panel of six to nine judges that would hear cases sent to it from the state Supreme Court. It's often called a deflective court.

As for the process of picking judges, the commission didn't suggest major changes despite having former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the panel. She has long been a proponent of merit-based appointment of judges, which is how federal judges are selected.

While suggesting that the state continue with the partisan election of judges, the commission did suggest some minor changes. One example is that the panel suggests filling the proposed "deflective" court with appointed judges.

Also, the panel says the Legislature should define the makeup of advisory panels used by the governor when filling a judicial vacancy. It also suggests a defined evaluation process and making the entire process more open to the public.

The report also recommends a public financing pilot program to curb campaign spending in judicial races. It suggests such a pilot program for one of the two Supreme Court seats up for election in 2012.

The commission also recommended the state study the feasibility of creating a business court. This court would handle corporate and contract disputes.

The president of the West Virginia Association for Justice President issued a statement Monday about the report.

"The West Virginia Association for Justice thanks Carte Goodwin and the other members of the commission for their months of hard work in reviewing our state's judicial system, evaluating the concerns of various groups and West Virginia residents and then issuing this report and its recommendations," Tim Bailey said.

"WVAJ and its members will take the next few weeks to review these proposals and determine whether the recommendations address what we believe are the important issues facing the judicial system."

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