By Adam Pack
West Virginia will be receiving a new layer of appellate court in the coming months. Senate Bill 275 received the governor’s signature on April 9, 2021, creating the West Virginia Intermediate Court of Appeals. The new court will be a three-member panel with elections staggered into three levels: “Judge One” will serve 2.5 years, concluding Dec. 31, 2024. “Judge Two” for 4.5 years, concluding on Dec. 31, 2026. “Judge Three” for 6.5 years, concluding on Dec. 31, 2028. The first three jurists will be appointed by Governor Justice and the Judicial Vacancy Advisory Commission (JVAC).
Each judge elected thereafter will serve a ten-year term. This tiering prevents all judges from being up for election in the same year.
To sit on the new court, either by appointment or election, judges must; be a member of the West Virginia Bar Association for at least 10 years, be a resident of West Virginia for at least five years, and must be devoted full-time. As such, members must resign if they become a candidate or pre-candidate for any other office. Members will run in nonpartisan elections, meaning they will not be able to claim an official party on the ballot nor in any official campaign materials. Any future vacancies will be filled by the Governor and the JVAC on an interim basis.
The Intermediate court’s jurisdiction will be, per www.courtswv.gov:
- Appeals from circuit courts in civil cases and those concerning guardianship or conservatorship
- Appeals from Family Court
- Appeals from state agencies or administrative law judges
- Appeals from decisions of the new Worker’s Compensation Board of Review
The only court above the new Intermediate court will be the WV Supreme Court, which may choose to take any civil case from the intermediate court “on its own accord.” Parties to civil cases may also go above the Intermediate court, appealing directly to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court can accept such an appeal if it represents an issue of “fundamental public importance” or “involves exigencies.”
The Intermediate court, perhaps most importantly, will “have binding precedent for the decisions of all circuit courts, family courts, magistrate courts, and agencies unless the opinion, order, or decision is overruled or modified by the Supreme Court of Appeals.” As such, the new court will wield a great deal of power over future family court proceedings, making these positions ones which will be very consequential for local litigants.
Out of the 25 names released by the governor’s office Thursday, Oct. 14, three area residents have applied to be on the Intermediate Court of Appeals; Robert J. Frank, James J. Rowe, and Christine B. Stump.
Robert J. Frank of Robert J. Frank & Assoc. has been licensed to practice law in West Virginia since 2008. Born overseas while his father was serving in the Navy, Frank was raised in Colorado. He then graduated Cum Laude from Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa in 1987. Frank received his Doctorate of Jurisprudence (JD) in 1990, graduating “With Distinction” from the University of Iowa College of Law.
Christine B. Stump, also a local Lewisburg attorney, graduated from Tulane University School of Law in 1986. After being a part of the Attorney General’s Honor Graduate Program, Stump served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Virginia and Raleigh. Leaving the Dept. of Justice in 1998, she began practicing law in West Virginia ever since, specializing in family law.
James J. Rowe, formerly a judge on the state’s 11th Circuit serving Greenbrier and Pocahontas Counties, was born in Alexandria, VA, and received a B.A. from WVU in 1972, and his JD from George Mason University in 1977. Rowe served on the WV Circuit Court’s 11th Circuit for nearly 20 years after being appointed by former governor Gaston Caperton in 1997.