Any intermediate appellate court docket ought to embrace first overview of all household court docket choices | Journal-news

Judge Jim Douglas

Why do we need an intermediate appeals court to review all decisions of the family court?

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals website, Quick Reference Guide for 2019 (2020 was unavailable at the time), provides an interesting look. The facts are: New appeals for domestic relationships, including child abuse and neglect, accounted for 33% (304) of all appeals submitted, while new appeals for other areas of law such as criminal, civil and administrative cases were much lower: 24% (220), 23% (216) and 20% (189), respectively. However, in its spring and fall 2020 semesters, the Supreme Court issued a total of 937 opinions and decisions, of which there were only 25 internal family decisions or a dismal 2.7% for the combined terms of office. In order not to cite Covid-19 as an excuse for a relatively low clearance rate and the review of domestic relations cases, the same website shows that during the Supreme Court tenure in the fall of 2019 without Covid, only 21 out of 253 (8.3% ) cases were classified as family law matters.

Perhaps a more telling, and near-clearer picture of the important role family law cases play in the West Virginia legal landscape can be made by examining the Supreme Court’s 2019 Annual Report of the Supreme Court of Circuit Courts to find that the 55 counties in the United States have new state filings of family law cases (24,767) resulted in an overwhelming majority in civil suits being filed second with 22,432, and criminal cases in third with 12,021. What do these admittedly dry math numbers really tell us?

First, family law issues such as divorce, custody, visiting grandparents, LGBTQ fairness and domestic violence affect more families, more people, more average citizens, more hardworking residents, more underrated teachers, and more professionals and workers on lunch break alike than the solutions of large companies, Car wrecks, arson, border disputes and the petty thefts of porch pirates.

Second, these statistics are inconveniently pulling on a shroud that is constantly being pulled away: family courts, and especially the vital work they do, are often viewed as disruptive. In general, the senior judicial authorities view family courts and domestic affairs with contempt, even contempt. Why is this? The truth is that many high-level appeal leaders have little or negligible practical experience in the field of family law. Could any of these appellate judges or judges even use a child benefit formula? Nevertheless, they are encouraged to pass on child-related topics. The obvious result to the reader is that the most important case in your and your child’s life is decided by many law enforcement officials who have never tried a custody case in their professional lives.

The main reason, however, is that family disputes are disgusting, filthy, emotional, time consuming, filthy, and endless. Raw people and good people at worst are mercilessly flaunted. These cases have neither the glamor nor the prestige or the remote abstraction of regressive tax theories or violated constitutional rights or corporate takeovers. However, a fact is without meaningful debate – no one can deny its prevalence or importance.

What does this have to do with an intermediate appeals court? In the following paragraphs I am not speaking for any group or person or family judge other than myself. It’s just my opinion.

As in previous years, the benefits, cost, and feasibility of establishing an Intermediate Appeal Court, like the Specter of Marley’s Ghost, have consistently emerged before West Virginia law. While I am not pretending to articulate a position or the merits or lack of merits of the sentence, I find that if the measure were adopted, a feature of an earlier version had a very appealing aspect (and new iterations have) in relation to and as a potential remedy for the current disrepute in which family courts are now held and the associated delays in filing family complaints.

During the 2018 Legislature, the SB 341 session was offered but ultimately defeated, which saw an Intermediate Court of Appeals, among other things, conduct the first appeals review of decisions of the Family Court, bypassing the current structure that requires an initial and revising appeals at the District courts lodged that already have serious criminal and civil files. In short, a belated move along with the potential for pre-trial detention (which was sent back to the family court for some reason) was removed from appeal by the 2018 SB 341. The advantage of the proposal of SB 341 was that any appeal after the judgment of the family court would bring the decision of the family court to the level of the state and not the county; and presumably the Intermediate Appellate Court could make a faster decision. Put simply, the Intermediate Appellate Court, which sits in two geographic divisions of the state and employs six (6) judges, would only hear appeals and not in addition to multiple jury and non-jury trials that the county courts have to deal with on a daily basis. Under a 2021 bill similar to SB 341, such as the recently enrolled SB 4 (02/10/2021) and SB 275 (02/13/21) bill, the right to appeal to the West Virginia Supreme Court is now would remain intact, but would invariably reduce the burden of appeal to the West Virginia Supreme Court, and it could result in faster family closings in domestic cases.

– Jim Douglas is a family judge from Kanawha County.

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