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West Virginia Court Records

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How Does The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Work?

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals is the highest Court and the Court of last resort in West Virginia. As of May 2021, it was also the only* Court with the jurisdiction to grant appellate relief when the lower circuit court has made a final judgment.

In exercising its jurisdiction to grant appellate relief, West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals justices holistically consider the interpretation of state laws, the federal constitution, legislative acts, administrative rules, and regulations, as well as the existing body of common law and treaties.

The consideration of these legal resources only serves to help the Court find and correct the errors of the inferior circuit court that handled the case. The Supreme Court of Appeals does not conduct a trial de novo; it is not a forum for fact-finding. If the justices determine that a retrial is necessary, the Supreme Court of Appeals shall reverse the original verdict. Then, the Court shall order the circuit court of original jurisdiction to conduct a new trial based on the Court’s opinions.

The ruling of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals is generally final except under certain circumstances. Circumstances that lead to overturning the Court’s ruling include constitutional conventions and legislatively referred constitutional amendments. Furthermore, the decisions of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals may have persuasive authority and thus not applicable as precedent in subsequent decisions of the Supreme Court.

The appellate jurisdiction of the West Virginia Court of Appeals extends to criminal convictions affirmed on appeal from magistrate courts and direct appeals from administrative agencies, e.g., workers’ compensation appeals. The Supreme Court may also exercise its appellate jurisdiction over family court cases if the litigants decide not to appeal directly to a circuit court. The Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction involves civil petitions of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, and certiorari.

According to judicial statistics, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals adjudicates an average of 885 appeals annually in all these cases. Generally, litigants do not have a constitutional right of appellate review in West Virginia, and exercising this appellate jurisdiction is entirely at the discretion of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of Appeals will only consider a petition for appellate review if the trial court failed to follow due process in judgment or the trial court issued a writ of error (W. Va. Code § 58–4–1)..

Generally, the appeals that the West Virginia Supreme Court considers broadly fall under:

  • Legal issues of significant importance to the public, e.g., abortion and reproductive rights
  • Questions arising under the Constitution of the United States or West Virginia

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals comprises five justices elected to twelve-year terms in a statewide non-partisan election. A peer voting system selects one of these justices to a one-year term as chief justice.

Election into the Supreme Court begins when an eligible candidate applies with the Secretary of State’s Office (see application guidelines).. Per the state constitution, a justiceship candidate must be at least thirty years old; be a citizen/resident for at least five years; practiced law in the state for at least ten years (W. Va. Const., art. IV, § 4 and W. Va. Const., art. VIII, § 7)..

Following a successful election, the justice serves his/her entire tenure and may seek reelection unless otherwise removed or incapacitated at any point. In such scenarios, an eligible individual shall serve as interim justice until the term expires. Selection of interim justices is per gubernatorial appointment following a recommendation by the West Virginia Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission (W. Va. Code § 3–10–3a)..

West Virginia does not limit the number of terms a justice may serve, and neither does state laws mandate retirement for competent and serving justices. Justices typically retire or are removed from office viz-a-viz:

Impeachment: Impeachment of a Justice happens when most members of the West Virginia House of Delegates vote to impeach a justice for any violation of any such code of ethics, code of regulations, and standards (W. Va. Const., art. VIII, § 8).. Of note is the 2018 scandal that led to the impeachment of all five Supreme Court justices. Following impeachment, the Senate shall conduct removal proceedings.

Removal from office: In cases of misconduct or unethical practices, West Virginia laws prescribe the removal of a serving justice following removal proceedings by the Senate. Removal proceedings typically follow impeachment or a proclamation by the governor to the legislature (as seen in the 2018 impeachment proclamation)..

Incapacitation: Here, the removal of a serving Supreme Court justice is per advancement in age and physical or mental incapacitation. The West Virginia Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission shall assist the governor in the appointment of an interim justice until the next general elections.

The West Virginia Supreme Court primarily holds sessions at the Capitol in Charleston. These proceedings are open to interested persons, but admission into the courtroom is on a first-come-first-in basis due to limited seats.

State Capitol Complex
1900 Kanawha Boulevard East
Charleston WV 25305
Phone: (304) 558–2601 (Clerk’s Office)
Fax: (304) 558–3673

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals allows the public to track active dockets via an online calendar. Interested persons may also use the webcast portal to remotely attend oral arguments for appeals. However, as the Court does not record or archive webcasts, persons interested in court transcripts, briefs, and associated case records must contact the Supreme Court Clerk’s Office. Meanwhile, opinions and memorandum decisions of the Supreme Court are available online on this webpage.

Note: On March 30, 2021, the West Virginia House of Delegates passed Senate Bill 275, also known as the West Virginia Appellate Reorganization Act of 2021. The bill aims to create an Intermediate Court of Appeals, which will facilitate the thorough review of trial court judgments in the state. SB 275 is effective from June 30, 2021.

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