The Mingo scandals have been well-publicized around the nation. But could they change the state constitution?
Currently, West Virginia's court system relies on courts of original jurisdiction and one appellate court. That is, there are six courts where cases may originate. Civil or criminal cases can be appealed to the State Supreme Court of Appeals, but that court has discretion over whether it accepts an appeal or not. In recent years, the State Legislature has shot down proposals to create an intermediate court of appeals.
Now the corruption and abuse by former Circuit Court Judge Michael Thornsbury should force reconsideration.
An intermediate appeals court can rectify and even prevent the kinds of abuses that Thornsbury attempted. It could uncover the ham handed frame ups. More importantly, its very existence could make corrupt judges think twice about abusing the system.
Circuit court judges are elected. Their re-election depends upon personal popularity more than observance of the law. This could sway even honest minds. Corporations have found some circuits unfairly biased against business defendants. This has been cited as a major reason why West Virginia remains a "judicial hellhole" where business often cannot get an even shake. Conversely, the support of business could sway some judges too fr he other way.
Our suggestion is to divide the state into three sections. Judges will serve six year terms, staggered every two years. Judges could be nominated by the governor from each section and confirmed by a statewide vote. This ensures quality and respect for the law while preserving the voice of the people. It also means that one governor will not in usual circumstances be able to appoint an entire court.
The Mingo scandals should refocus this debate. What if the federal government had not been tracking these rogues? Their brand of justice could have raged unchecked for years. Many could have been unfairly jailed with no chance of appeal.
If for no other reason, the Thornsbury case gives an ironclad reason why West Virginia needs an interediate court of appeals.