New W.Va. Appellate Court Begins Work
As of July 1, West Virginia has a new level of courts between Family Court and Circuit Courts and the state Supreme Court of Appeals. The Intermediate Court of Appeals will take some of the Supreme Court’s load and also hear Family Court cases that weren’t always heard by the Circuit Court.
The three judges on the court are Judge Thomas E. Scarr, Judge Daniel W. Greear and Judge Charles Lorensen.
News Director Eric Douglas spoke with one of the three judges on the panel, Judge Dan Greear, to find out more.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Douglas: What's the elevator speech version of what the Intermediate Court of Appeals is for?
Greear: It's an intermediate level between our circuit courts, and our Supreme Court. Forty one other states have that. We’re the 42nd. In civil cases, at least, that'll be an extra layer of review, to make sure that the laws are applied properly, that the procedures are followed and that critical cases and issues are heard correctly and ruled on correctly by the trial judges. The Supreme Court will obviously then be able to review our decisions. In some other areas of law, we're interestingly replacing a level of review. For instance, in family law decisions, currently, appeals from Family Court go to Circuit Court, we will be replacing that level.
Under the current statutes, circuit courts have discretion to hear those appeals. In other words, a circuit judge can look at a petition for appeal, as it's called, and say, “You know what, that's just not significant enough, I'm going to deny that petition. And I'm not going to rule on that appeal on its merits. I'm just going to let the ruling stand.” We will issue, by statute, a decision on the merits on each of these.
Douglas: So you will automatically hear any appeal versus the circuit court.
Greear: That is exactly correct. The circuit courts obviously are trial courts, not specifically appellate courts at all. And our trial judges are tremendously worked with abuse and neglect cases, criminal cases, their docket and their caseloads continue to grow larger and larger. So we think taking at least this little piece of what they have to do off of their plate and letting us do it will help them out, at least in some measure, to enable them to focus on their trial court work that they do. Same thing with administrative appeals for administrative agencies with grievances or things, like with public employees and employment disputes. Now all those are coming to us instead of the circuit court.
Douglas: This is the first time West Virginia has an Intermediate Court of Appeals. Where did it come from?
Greear: The need depends on the legislators you talk to, I guess, but let me back up and give you the history. There was a 1974 constitutional amendment passed, that gave the legislature the authority to create this if they desired to do so. So this issue has been around since at least 1974. Obviously, it didn't happen until 2021. It's not my job as a judge to state policy reasons for that. But I think there was a desire to ensure that every dispute, not only got heard at the trial level, but had adequate opportunity to be reviewed on appeal. And even in some cases, a second review of that appeal. So I think the view of the legislators was that it was needed to ensure that justice was carried out. And also as I've mentioned to take some of the workload off both the circuit courts and the Supreme Court.
Douglas: In theory, the Supreme Court will see fewer cases, because they've been handled by the Intermediate Court.
Greear: In theory, any case decision we make could be appealed to the Supreme Court. But in practice, when you look at those other 41 states, the amount of cases that go through the Intermediate Court and then to their next level review, there's a number of cases that are weeded out, so to speak, in this level. The amount that progressed to the next level are smaller and smaller.
Douglas: Do you have any estimate of how many cases you'll see?
Greear: A ballpark range is probably 800 to 1000 cases a year, in total that we'll be seeing. The Supreme Court in some years is heard as many as 1500 or 1600, or generally over 1000. So we're going to probably be somewhat smaller in number of cases than the Supreme Court.
Douglas: You will see you will hear each of these cases as a panel.
Greear: That's right. All of the decisions will be made by the three of us. And it'll either be a unanimous three zero decision, or it'll be a two to one majority. So we will vote on all the decisions that we make in every case.
Douglas: What are the types of cases you expect to hear?
Greear: Probably the cases that will gather the most attention, and you'll hear most about in the media are lawsuits disputes between individuals, between companies, between corporations. And certainly, the types of cases that garner political discussion are often big verdicts against big companies.
Douglas: But you expect that the bulk of your cases will be the Family Court.
Greear: Yes, by numbers. And one other major area of case we hadn't talked about was worker's comp. In those kinds of appeals, we will replace the Office of Judges. When you look at numbers, the amount of workers comp appeals, family law appeals is probably going to be larger than the civil cases that we hear.
Douglas: I remember hearing just a couple of months ago, you’re going to have virtual or remote hearings?
Greear: We're tremendously excited about it. We have five satellite courtrooms around the state, in Raleigh, Lewis, Grant, Morgan and Wetzel Counties. They will have closed circuit video, the three of us as judges will be in our Kanawha City courtroom, but somebody from Martinsburg, for example, instead of driving four and a half hours to Charleston, and may be spending the night, can drive a half hour to Morgan County and appear there by video. They will have a big screen and we'll see them and they'll see us. And we'll interact exactly like they were there in person. We're not requiring it, it's totally there for their convenience to reduce their expense and make our court more accessible. And we think that's going to be a tremendous addition to our court.