W.Va. Senate Rejects Amendment Adding Criminal Cases To Intermediate Courts

Feb 7, 2020

A bill to create an intermediate court of appeals in West Virginia is on its way to a final vote in the state Senate. Lawmakers rejected an amendment Friday that would have required the proposed court to handle criminal cases in addition to civil cases.

Senate Bill 275 would create another layer of appeals between circuit courts and the state Supreme Court. Two three-judge panels — split between a northern and southern district — would hear civil cases, guardianship cases and workers’ compensation cases, as well as appeals to decisions in family court.

Sen. William Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio, offered an amendment Friday that would have allowed the proposed intermediate court system to handle criminal cases. He argued that the intermediate court system that handles civil cases would favor big businesses over the people of the state.

“If we were to expand the subject matters that it would have jurisdiction over to things like criminal matters, and commitment orders and juvenile matters, this court would truly be for all the taxpayers — for all the citizens, for all the defendants and all the prosecutors and not just for corporations,” Ihlenfeld said. “Because I think if we're going to spend millions of dollars on this court, millions of taxpayer dollars on this court, then the taxpayers ought to have access to this court.”

Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Trump, R-Morgan, argued that expanding the proposed intermediate court to criminal and child abuse and neglect cases would delay a final ruling. Trump also said the amendment would have added costs. 

“We've done what we can to try to mitigate costs in this bill, all of us. Both political parties, both houses are conscious and aware that we have to be careful in our spending. We have to try to minimize the cost,” Trump said. He said adding criminal cases would cause a need to increase public defender services, which would come at a cost to taxpayers.

Ihlenfeld’s amendment failed 14-20 along party lines.

The new intermediate court system is expected to cost at least $4 million annually, according to fiscal notes attached to the measure.

Senate Bill 275 is slated for a vote Monday in the Senate. 

If passed, it will head to the House of Delegates, where another version was left stalled in committee last session.