W.Va. leaders react to revised appellate rules

Chris Dickerson May 21, 2010, 8:00am

Chief Justice Robin Davis

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) - Reaction to the West Virginia Supreme Court's revised rules for appellate procedure is rolling in.

Leaders of groups that watch the Court all praise the Justices for the effort put into the process of updating the rules for the first time in more than 35 years.

"The West Virginia Association for Justice sincerely thanks the justices and staff of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals for their months of research, analysis and hard work to produce these revised rules of appellate procedure," WVAJ President Timothy C. Bailey said.

"The court should be commended for the breadth of detail in its proposal, and we are very pleased that the court did not just provide lip service to the concerns that have been voiced regarding our system.

"It is important that our civil justice system remain above reproach."

The president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce agreed.

"We're very pleased that the Supreme Court has issued these rules and provided 60 days for public comment and input," Steve Roberts said.

"Our initial read is positive. We don't want to lock ourselves into a conclusion until we've not only thoroughly reviewed the rules but also discussed the rules with lawyers who may represent a variety of points of view."

Richie Heath, executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, said it is clear the Supreme Court spent a lot of time on the revisions.

"The proposed rules appear to be an improvement over the state's current appeals process," Heath said. "However, we won't know the true impact until these rules are put into practice by the Supreme Court.

"Ultimately, the meaningfulness of any appeal under the newly proposed appellate process hinges on whether or not the Supreme Court provides adequate legal guidance in its newly created memorandum decisions."

Roberts said the state Chamber also is reviewing the changes.

"Before we issue a formal comment, we're having our working group read the proposed rule and think about its practical applications and how others states handle the appellate process," he said. "And, we want to see how West Virginia will be perceived nationally as a result of the rule.

"Some people might criticize us for saying that. But from our point of view, getting out of dead last in the minds of decision makers across the country is an important goal. We want substantive change and change that is appreciated."

Bailey said the WVAJ also is going over the proposal before making an official comment.

"We are reviewing these proposals in detail, and we will be discussing them with our executive committee, board and members before issuing a formal comment on the specific proposals," he said.

Jonathan Deem, chief legal counsel for Gov. Joe Manchin, said the governor's office is pleased with the results of the Court's revisions.

"I'm still going through them and trying to digest them, but initial reactions are that it looks like the Court did what it set out to do," Deem said. "They completely revamped their rules. They're going to provide a decision on the merits of every case. That's important, and the governor obviously thinks that was a good thing to do."

Deem said Supreme Court Clerk Rory Perry had given him and his staff a presentation with a broad overview of the revised rules.

"It seems like a different process, but one that is a move in the right direction," Deem said. "The governor's office is eager to see what happens and to see how the public reacts to the revisions. We will help the Court in any way we can."

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