The just resolution of disputes is one of the most important services provided by government. Although legislative and executive branch officials resolve disputes, the judiciary resolves most two-party private disputes and some more complex public disputes. The judiciary's capacity to resolve disputes and other legal conflicts often plays a critical role in West Virginia's public policymaking.1 This chapter examines the duties and responsibilities of the Supreme Court of Appeals, the circuit courts, the magistrate courts, and the family law masters.
The Supreme Court of Appeals is the state's only appellate court. Its five justices review trial court decisions and certain other adjudications. All appellants must petition the justices to docket (list) the case for consideration. Thus, the Supreme Court, by majority vote, has complete discretion over its docket.
West Virginia's thirty-one circuit courts, with exclusive jurisdiction over all criminal, civil, and juvenile matters except torts (accidents and other personal injuries), small claims about contracts, and misdemeanors, serve as the state's comprehensive trial courts of general jurisdiction. The state's magistrate courts have countywide jurisdiction over criminal matters and small civil claims. The legislature specifies the magistrates' duties, salaries, and other requirements, and prohibits immediate family members from serving as magistrates in the same county. It also requires magistrates to complete a course of instruction after their election and to attend continuing edu