by Kate Shunney
West Virginia’s newest court system has opened one of five satellite courtrooms in Morgan County as a way to serve the public better.
On Wednesday, December 7, justices from the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, the West Virginia Intermediate Court of Appeals and judges from the 23rd Judicial Circuit joined Morgan County elected officials in opening the satellite courtroom on the third floor of the Morgan County Courthouse.
In opening remarks delivered in the Morgan County Commission meeting room, Justice Dan Greear said when the Supreme Court of Appeals went to work making the Intermediate Court a reality, they created a framework for oral arguments to be heard in satellite locations around the state.
The satellite courtrooms – located in Raleigh, Lewis, Whetzel, Grant and Morgan counties – are a place where parties to a case can appear and make oral arguments to three Intermediate Court justices without having to travel to Charleston for hearings.
Intermediate Court justices will sit on the bench in Charleston and communicate via a designated live video feed to the satellite courtrooms, which are equipped with large video monitors, audio connections and courtroom furnishings.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Hutchison thanked the Morgan County Commission for working with his court to find a space that fit their requirements. Justice Hutchison said the court wanted courtrooms where no parties had to drive more than 90 minutes to access the space, and in places with adequate restaurants and parking facilities.
“Morgan County absolutely fit that bill and checked all the boxes,” said Justice Hutchison.
Hutchison recognized State Senator Charles Trump (R-Morgan), who heads the Judiciary Committee. He and others worked over several sessions to craft legislation to create the Intermediate Court level of the judiciary. The court began holding proceedings on July 1.
Intermediate Court judges Greear, Judge Thomas Scarr and Judge Charles Lorensen were all appointed by Gov. Jim Justice to the court. They all attended the courtroom opening in Berkeley Springs on Wednesday.
The Intermediate Court of Appeals hears appeals of judgements in civil cases, family court cases, Worker’s Compensation cases, administrative and guardianship cases. They do not hear criminal appeals or abuse and neglect cases.
Morgan County Commission President Sean Forney remarked at the courtroom dedication that offering space to the court system was an easy decision.
“For us here in Morgan County, this was a no-brainer,” said Forney. “It’s an honor to be selected and have an ICA courtroom here.”
Senator Trump said the opening of the satellite courtroom was “a great day for Morgan County.”
He said he is excited that the county courthouse can host the satellite courtroom, and put the county’s hospitality on display.
Trump said the governor should get credit for signing the Intermediate Court legislation into law.
“I think it’ll be good for West Virginia in the long term,” he said.
Senator Trump, himself an attorney, said he thought Wednesday’s ceremonies were historic.
“Never before have we had more judicial officers in Morgan County than today,” he said.
After a ribbon-cutting outside the courtroom, which sits to the west of the Circuit Court on the third floor, Judge Greear gave a tour of the technology at work in the small space that serves as the satellite courtroom.
A large screen displayed three law clerks in Charleston, each representing the Intermediate Court judge they work for. Judges in the Morgan County courtroom talked to those clerks over a designated audio and video link, which was instantaneous.
“This isn’t like a Zoom meeting,” one of the judges noted.
Chief Justice Hutchison credited the Supreme Court’s technology department for their extensive work preparing all five satellite courtrooms to be suitable for hearings.
Attorneys and parties in the case can choose to attend hearings in any of the five satellite courtrooms, or to travel to Charleston.
Judge Greear said it’s entirely up to those parties to make that choice, so the court doesn’t yet know how often the satellite courtrooms will be used.
As with all hearings of the Supreme Court of Appeals, hearings held in the satellite locations will be open to the public and will be livestreamed on the court’s video feed. Dockets and schedules of hearings can be found on the judicial website at www.courtswv.gov.