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The 55 circuit courts form the bedrock of the West Virginia judicial system. They are state trial courts that handle felony cases and major civil litigation. They are courts of general jurisdiction, meaning that they hear all types of cases originating in the circuit, including appeals from special jurisdiction courts, such as the family court or the magistrate court. All cases, civil or criminal, that have been tried in the magistrate courts may be appealed to the circuit courts. In certain instances, the circuit courts have concurrent jurisdiction with the magistrate court over misdemeanors and small civil claims.

In some other states, including Ohio and Pennsylvania, these courts are called ‘‘common pleas’’ courts. The reason that they are called circuit courts in West Virginia is that from early days in Virginia judges at all levels would ‘‘ride circuit’’ between their various duty stations. For the circuit judges, these were the county seats.

As of 2023, West Virginia is divided into 31 judicial circuits, presided over by 75 judges. There are single-county circuits and multi-county circuits, which vary from seven judges in one county (Kanawha) to a single judge covering the Third Circuit of Doddridge, Pleasants, and Ritchie counties. These allocations are made by the legislature and in part reflect political power as well as a rational distribution of resources. New legislation passed in 2023 will reduce the total number of circuits from 31 to 29, effective January 1, 2025, with an overall increase in circuit judges to 79.

For most litigants, the circuit court provides the only justice they will receive. There is no guaranteed right of appeal to the state Supreme Court of Appeals, which reviews only the cases it chooses, so in more than 90 percent of civil and criminal cases, the decision of the circuit court is final and binding on the litigants. The circuit courts are administered by the Supreme Court, as are all other parts of the state judiciary.

This Article was written by H. John Rogers

Last Revised on December 12, 2023

Cite This Article

Rogers, H. John "Circuit Courts." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 12 December 2023. Web. 18 July 2024.


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