As my year as Chief Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeal draws to a close, I thank those who have contributed to the progress of the state’s justice system in 2021. I would also like to highlight the ways in which the Access and service have been improved for all who are served by the courts and the justice system.
The Constitution of West Virginia states that “the courts of this state shall be open” and that “justice shall be administered without.” . . delay. “When COVID-19 became a pandemic in 2020, simply closing our doors was not an option. In 2021, we continued to operate the courts virtually, but increasingly opted for in-person hearings As the year progressed, our employees worked tirelessly to keep the courts open.
During the summer of 2021, I personally visited each county courthouse on behalf of the Supreme Court to thank our 1,500 employees and let them know how much their work is appreciated.
As promised, we have ensured that this work is done in a fiscally responsible manner. Our judicial branch budget request for fiscal year 2021-2022 was $ 139.4 million. It was more than $ 2 million less than the FY2017 budget and less than 3% of the state’s total general revenue. Expenses remain in line with our estimate for the first six months of the year.
In 2021, Parliament enacted a law establishing an Intermediate Court of Appeal. Judges and staff spent much of the year developing procedures and rules for the new court, as well as determining its staffing, facilities and technology needs.
This preparation will continue with the help of the three intermediate court judges appointed by Governor Jim Justice: Thomas Scarr, Daniel Greear and Donald Nickerson Jr.
In May, the Supreme Court announced the addition of a pledge of civility to the oath that lawyers take when admitted to practice law. West Virginia is known for our friendliness, but the court wanted to ensure that judges and lawyers remain civil even when controversial issues are decided by our courts.
Legal professionals are leaders in our communities, and we should be role models of appropriate behavior.
In November, judges and other court staff gathered again to proclaim November Jury Appreciation Month in West Virginia and to announce the release of a new jury orientation video and handbook for jurors. updated jurors, both available on the West Virginia Judicial website: www .courtswv.gov / public-resources / jury-information.html. The citizens of a civil society have two duties: to vote and to be part of a jury when called upon. As a justice system, it is important that we take the time to thank those who serve.
Service is a theme of the work of the justice system. The importance of providing access to victims seeking protection was magnified during the pandemic. In response to concerns, in August 2021, the Supreme Court launched a pilot project to allow victims to file petitions for domestic violence protection orders and personal safety orders without going to a courthouse. Victims can also attend follow-up hearings virtually from specific defense offices, so they don’t have to be in the same room as their alleged attackers. The system is now operational in Cabell, Jefferson, Kanawha and Ohio counties, and is expected to expand in 2022.
The family treatment courts celebrated their second anniversary in October 2021 and serve participants in 11 counties. West Virginia also has 29 adult drug courts spanning 46 counties and 17 juvenile drug courts spanning 18 counties. Nine counties have veterans treatment courts within their adult drug courts.
Another notable anniversary is that the Juvenile Justice Commission celebrated its 10th anniversary. The commission was created in the aftermath of a tragedy and its original purpose was to review the operations and programs of the Juvenile Services Division. The commission is now examining facilities and programs operated or contracted by the Bureau of Juvenile Services and the Department of Health and Human Resources, looking for the strengths, challenges and gaps in West Virginia’s juvenile justice processes. . As the commission enters its second decade, it will continue to help children in West Virginia succeed.
It has been a unique honor and privilege to serve as Chief Justice in 2021. I know new Chief Justice John Hutchison shares that sentiment. We, along with Justices Beth Walker, Tim Armstead and Bill Wooton, will continue to work to advance the state’s justice system.
Justice Evan Jenkins is the outgoing Chief Justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeal.