At the bottom of the pyramid are the magistrate courts, which handle small claims. That is where most court cases are heard. Because magistrates have the most contact with the public, they are known as the "people's court."
There are 158 magistrates in West Virginia, at least two in every county and ten in the most populous county, Kanawha County. They hear misdemeanor cases, conduct preliminary examinations in felony cases and hear civil arguments with $5,000 or less in dispute. Cases lost in magistrate court can be appealed to circuit court.
Next in the pyramid are the family courts, where disputes related to children and families are heard and resolved. There are forty-five family court judges in twenty-seven circuits. Cases lost in family court can be appealed to circuit courts or to the Supreme Court, depending on the type of case.
Next in the pyramid are the trial courts, called circuit courts. There are thirty-one circuit courts in West Virginia with a total of seventy circuit judges. Circuit courts are West Virginia's only general jurisdiction trial courts of record. They have jurisdiction over all civil cases totaling more than $300. Civil cases usually involve private property rights, not criminal activity.
Supreme Court of Appeals
At the top of the pyramid is the highest court in the state, the Supreme Court of Appeals. If someone loses a criminal or civil case in the circuit court, it can be appealed to the Supreme Court of Appeals. West Virginia has one of the busiest courts in the nation in terms of the number of appeals filed. The Court receives about three thousand appeals each year.