Manchin Proposes Judicial Reforms

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SUPREME COURT ELECTION PUBLIC FINANCING
The first of the Governor's bills would establish public financing for the two seats on the Supreme Court that will be open in 2012. The Judicial Reform Commission had recommended that one of these seats qualify for public financing, and that the election for the other seat would be traditionally financed. The Governor's bill would make both seats available for public money. Under the bill, a participating candidate may receive up to $200,000 in a contested primary, and up to $350,000 in the general election. Revenue for the program would come from the Treasurer's unclaimed property trust fund, a voluntary income tax checkoff, increased dues for lawyers, and additional fees for filing and appealing lawsuits. The Commission did not recommend that these seats be elected on a nonpartisan basis, but suggested in a footnote that this might be considered in connection with the pilot project for public financing. The Governor's bill would not change the partisan nature of the election.

STATUTORY ADVISORY COMMITTEE FOR JUDICIAL VACANCIES
The Governor's second bill would create by statute a "judicial advisory committee" to assist the Governor in making appointments to judicial vacancies. Such a committee has been established by executive order by most Governors, and Manchin's proposed bill goes beyond current practice in several ways. It would stagger terms of committee members, so that they would not all be appointed by the incumbent Governor. The committee would be required to submit a list of the 2 to 5 best qualified candidates to the Governor, and that list, as well as candidate applications, would be public.

RIGHT OF APPEAL
Although the Judicial Reform Commission recommended establishment of an intermediate court of appeals, the Governor has not proposed a bill to do so. Instead, he met with the Supreme Court after the Commission issued its report, and announced in his State of the State Address that the Court will soon use its constitutional rulemaking authority to propose rules for public comment "to ensure there will be full appellate review by the Court of all final decisions on the merits issued by the circuit courts in West Virginia". The Governor commended the Court for this initiative.

George Carenbauer
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