Ketchum changes mind on need for new appeals court

Chris Dickerson Feb. 11, 2010, 3:00pm


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) - He was in favor of an intermediate appellate court system on the campaign trail, but West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Menis Ketchum now has a different opinion.

During a Feb. 9 budget hearing before the House of Delegate's Finance Committee, Ketchum said he isn't in favor of adding the intermediate appeals court, which officials say would cost at least $8 million a year.

"It will be $15 million by the time the bureaucrats get done," Ketchum said, according to "Am I going to write a 30-page opinion on every case? Ninety percent of the appeals I see are frivolous, so the answer is, hell no. But you'll get a decision on the merits."

The topic of an intermediate appellate court is a hot topic right now at the statehouse. Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis' recent comments about how she doesn't see the need for such a court has sparked a war of words. The Court is in the process of updating rules about appeals.

"Why do we keep talking about what we're doing now, or what we used to do?" Ketchum said at the Feb. 9 hearing. "Give us a chance to do our rules. We're doing what everybody said they want.

"With the five justices now, we can take every appeal. we can study them and we can do it standing on our heads. You watched the Super Bowl. Hell, I read briefs."

But in 2008, when he was campaigning for the seat on the bench, Ketchum said he was in favor of the intermediate appellate court.

"Yes, we do need an intermediate court of appeals," Ketchum said during an Oct. 22 forum at Shepherd University, according to a story in The West Virginia Record. "I think we need four (courts of error) - one in the Northern Panhandle, one in the Eastern Panhandle, one in Greenbrier County or that area and one in Charleston."

On Wednesday, Ketchum explained why he has changed his mind.

"On the campaign trail, I said we needed intermediate appellate courts," he said. "I said they would cost $850,000 apiece. Now, I've been informed the court would cost $8 to $14 million annually. I was misinformed about the cost.

"In my year on the court, I have discovered that our caseload is diminishing each month.

"The five justices on the current court, all of whom work extremely hard, can review the entire record on every case and make a decision and save the taxpayers $8 to $14 million a year."

Ketchum said the Supreme Court easily can handle the appeals caseload in West Virginia.

"I am now of the opinion that it would be a waste of taxpayer money to spend $8 to $14 million annually on an intermediate appeals court.

"The Supreme Court, under the Constitution, would be required to supervise the intermediate appellate court. The appeals that would be decided by this intermediate appellate court would then come to the Supreme Court. It is not necessary for a double review at a cost of $8 to $14 million annually."

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