CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) - West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin plans to introduce two pieces of legislation focusing on judicial reform during this year's legislative session.
Manchin also said the state Supreme Court plans to introduce rules to ensure full appellate review of "all final decisions on the merits issued by the circuit courts in West Virginia."
In his annual State of the State address Wednesday evening, Manchin said the first of the two bills is a public financing pilot project for the two state Supreme Court seats up for grabs in the 2012 election. The second bill would create a judicial advisory committee to aid the governor in the selection of judges for circuit court vacancies.
"Regardless of whether it's justified, West Virginia has been fighting the perception of an unfair judicial system," Manchin said. "Last year, I established the Independent Commission on Judicial Reform to address those concerns.
"I want to thank the commission and Honorary Chair Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, for their thorough review. They have laid the groundwork for reform."
The two bills are based on recommendations made by that panel and submitted to the governor last month.
Manchin said the goal of the public financing bill is "to relieve judges from the burden of political fundraising and to reduce the potential for appearance of bias as a result of campaign donations."
He said the money would be available for both the primary and general elections.
As for the bill to create a judicial advisory committee, Manchin noted that almost half of West Virginia's current circuit judges initially were appointed before being elected.
"This bill will ensure that only the most highly qualified individuals are considered for appointment and will enhance the transparency in this process," Manchin said.
Speaking about guaranteed appeals, Manchin said he had asked his Independent Commission on Judicial Reform to look for ways to "broaden opportunities for appeals of circuit court decisions."
"The Supreme Court has been studying this issue for the past several months, and I'm pleased to report that they have shared with me a proposal for major reform of the state's appellate process," he said.
"Through their constitutional rule-making authority, the Supreme Court of Appeals will soon issue rules for public comment that are intended to ensure there will be full appellate review by the Court of all final decisions on the merits issued by the circuit courts in West Virginia."
Manchin called this move "a remarkable development."
"And we should commend our Supreme Court for taking this action to move our state forward."