Proposed Intermediate Court Unnecessary, Wastes Tax Dollars

Burning Money

Read our blog to learn more and then sign our petition.  Tell state lawmakers West Virginia doesn’t have money to burn!

The State of West Virginia is just one-quarter of the way through its current fiscal year, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced that we have a budget deficit of $250 million.  Why then is the West Virginia Legislature even considering the creation of an intermediate court in our state?  It is a waste of our limited tax dollars and an unnecessary expansion of state government.

According to the most recent fiscal note on the proposed intermediate court, it will cost taxpayers $9.7 million a year.  That amount doesn’t include the initial start-up costs.  It also doesn’t include millions more for the additional expenses that will be incurred by state agencies like the West Virginia Attorney General’s office, public defenders, the tax department and other agencies that will need to handle both legal and administrative appeals before the new court.  In addition to these costs, county taxpayers will also pay more since we will need to increase the budgets for our county prosecutors.

It’s going to cost us millions—and we don’t have the money to waste.  We’re cutting essential state programs left and right, including $16 million from our schools and another $16.5 million from higher education.  We have one of the oldest populations in the country, but senior programs and services are being cut.  We have one of the highest percentages of veterans, but we’re cutting funds for their programs too.  Funding for PEIA is being cut, affecting our teachers, public employees and retirees.  They are going to face significant cuts in benefits, and their deductibles are being increased.  For families, it will be $3,000.  Most West Virginia families can’t afford that.  We need major roads repairs and infrastructure improvements, but money is being cut for that too.

The Legislature should not be wasting tax dollars we don’t have on an intermediate court we don’t need.  Despite claims from the corporate special interests pushing for the court, automatic right of appeal exists in West Virginia.  Appeals to the West Virginia Supreme Court have declined 60 percent over the last 15 years, from 3,569 in 1999 to just 1,346 last year.  Our appeals are declining at a rate four times the national average.  The civil cases cited by those wanting the court represent just 14 percent of the cases.  They have also declined more than 50 percent over the last decade, from 402 in 2004 to just 184 in 2014.  Based on these figures, adding an intermediate court is an unnecessary expansion of state government.

That’s a sentiment echoed by the Honorable James Hardesty, chief justice of the Nevada Supreme Court when he appeared by video conference before the Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee.  Nevada had to add an intermediate court last year due to the state’s rapidly growing population and the increased number of cases being filed.  The court there had a three-year backlog. The court system expansion was necessary.  When questioned about whether West Virginia needed one in light of its current case filings, Justice Hardesty said no.

Why then is the Republican-controlled Legislature pushing for an intermediate court that wastes our tax dollars and unnecessarily expands our state government.  It’s because the corporate special interests that spent millions to help get them elected want it—whether our state needs it or not.  (It’s ironic that the same special interests that call our beautiful state a “judicial hellhole” want us to expand our judiciary.)

The West Virginia Legislature’s first priority should be doing what’s best for West Virginians—not pandering to billion-dollar, corporate special interests.  If we want to grow our economy, let’s invest in our workforce.  Our schools, colleges and universities need to ensure that our young people have the education and skills needed to attract 21st century jobs to this state.  That’s done by increasing our education budget—not by cutting it while handing corporate billionaires a court we don’t need.  Our kids shouldn’t take a backseat to CEOs.

Tell state lawmakers West Virginia doesn’t have money to burn!  Sign our petition!

Stand and Fight: David Will Defeat Goliath

We’ve heard the story of David and Goliath since we were children.  Goliath was the powerful champion of the Philistine army, clad head to toe in brass armor and carrying several weapons.  His shield bearer walked in front of him.  For 40 days, he dared the Israelites to send someone forward to challenge him.  He believed that he was invincible and that his power was absolute.  Men cowered and hid, afraid of Goliath’s insults and threats—until he was challenged by David, a young man with no armor and armed only with a simple slingshot.  Goliath mocked him.

“’Am I a dog that you come at me with sticks?’  And the Philistine cursed David by his gods . . . ‘Come here, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field.’”

David replied, “’You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty . . . This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down.’” (1 Samuel 17: 43-46)

With a single stone hurled from his slingshot, David defeated Goliath.

It’s a story that plays out every single day in our courtrooms when a West Virginia consumer, worker or small business owner goes up against the wealthiest and most powerful corporations in the world.  Those corporations have their great wealth, political power and an army of lawyers.  West Virginians have only their 7th Amendment right to trial by jury and their attorney.

It appears unbalanced, but it’s not.  Our courtrooms are the one place where we are equal.  Justice is blind.  It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, if you are powerful or powerless.  Justice shows no fear and no favoritism.  All that matters in the courtroom is the evidence and the rule of law.  In our courtrooms, David can still defeat Goliath.

And Goliath’s not happy.  This is why corporate special interests continue their unrelenting attack on our civil justice system.  This is why they march out behind their shield bearers—corporate funded front groups like the American Tort Reform Association and Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.  They want to destroy any chance of the David’s in this world of being able to defeat them.

What are their weapons?  They lie about our state’s legal climate and create a phony crisis.  They attack our state in national media by calling us a “hellhole.”  They threaten legislators to pass the laws they want or face more attacks.  The laws they want take away David’s slingshot and stones, tying his arms behind his back, while providing them with even more powerful armor and weapons.  David’s are left with nothing, while Goliath becomes more powerful than ever before.

It’s time for West Virginians to stop cowering in fear and demand that the insults and threats stop.  We can no longer sit back and allow this to continue.  It is time for each one of us to stand up and fight.  Arm yourself with your simple slingshot—truth.  Truth about our legal climate.  Truth about our economy.  Truth about what these billion-dollar corporate interests really want, and why they’re willing to say and do anything to get it.  Be proud to stand with the David’s of this great state.

Goliath’s 40 days are up.