Insurance companies, out-of-state interest and the US Chamber of Commerce have ridiculed the West Virginia judicial system non-stop. This is in a concerted effort to eliminate the citizens of West Virginia access to our court system. If a everyday person cannot have access to the Court we all lose a significant constitutional right. One that our founders fought for and was one of the reasons we started this Country. You may ask how is that happening? First, most people cannot afford an attorney. If they are injured in an accident and the other party is at fault, people can no longer settled their claim. The insurance companies do not fairly evaluate claims causing people to have to hire an attorney and often file suit.
Most people do not want to file suit and at first feel the insurance company will properly handle their claim. A person who handles his or her own claims is trusting the very persons whose job it is to not pay your claim or to pay you as little as possible. This is a clear conflict of interest.
Next, our governor and legislature took away the third party bad faith law which used to monitor the claims process. Now insurance company have no rules and can treat citizen with claims however they please.
For insurance company’s the name of the game is to delay and make the process as expensive as possible. In this system the only person who can afford to go to court has the ability to use the court system. This is the insurance company or a corporation. The request for an intermediate court is along the same lines of thinking. Remember if you are an insurance company, you want to delay the case and constantly defend. What better way to continue to delay than to put in place another layer of bureaucracy.
Bill Maloney, who is running for governor in West Virginia, is also getting on the band wagon and advocating for another level of government, which will increase expenses and delay justice. Margaret Workman, a Justice on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeal, has consistently said that West Virginia does not need an intermediate court system.
The US Chamber complained that West Virginia needs the right of every litigant to a full appeal with a written decision. However, the West Virginia Supreme Court in response to pressures from the out-of-state interest have adopted new Rules of Appellate Procedure which has resulted in 111 written decisions from January 1, 2011 through April 4, 2011. Is this sufficient for the out-of-state interest? The answer is no. What the public needs to understand is this attack on our judicial system will not stop until there is no longer a judicial system for the average citizen to address their grievances.
What the common man wants is a cost efficient and quick way to resolve a conflict. Whether it is a divorce or a suit for a disputed contract. Making court cases last longer and putting an intermediate court of appeals does not accomplish this. The only person who benefits is a lawyer who is representing an insurance company or company and is paid by the hour. Most defense lawyers work on an hourly rate and the more hours they spend on a case, the more money they make.
For a defense lawyer, the worst thing that can happen is for a case to be resolved because they can no longer milk the cow. A case which can never be over because of endless depositions and appeals is the system that they want. Most small businesses are like most West Virginians, they want things resolved quickly and cost effective. Placing another level does little to accomplish that and what about the millions that will be spent to empanel this new court.
The legislative estimated that a three-judge intermediate appellate court would cost $5.2 million and that does not account for the increased cost to the litigates. There are 45,000 cases that could be potentially appealed each year. Approximately, of this amount are 9,000 criminal cases. In the vast majority of these criminal cases, the defendant has a court appointed attorney for which the state pays an hourly rate. For these criminal appeals, a local prosecutor’s office would have to hire more assistant prosecutors to respond to these appeals. Therefore, the end result is more cost for the taxpayers, which no one has calculated into the equation.
The judicial system in West Virginia may not be perfect, but it has delivered justice for its citizens for almost 150 years. The West Virginia legislature and the courts should tell the deep pocketed out-of-state interest to stop running smear campaigns on our court system. Anyone who feels the judges and attorneys of our fine state do not work hard, day in and day out seeking justice for all citizens, need to spend a week in their local courthouse observing the process firsthand before they make any opinions.