The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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December 21, 2013

Most courthouse offices will close Christmas Eve

Greenbrier County

Continuing what she said was a precedent set at least 20 years ago, Greenbrier County Commission President Karen Lobban called a halt to a brewing controversy over the courthouse’s Christmas Eve hours.

The commission voted last month to close the courthouse for the entire day on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, although only Christmas Day and the afternoon of Christmas Eve are official state holidays. The vote also included full-day closures on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, rather than sticking to the state holiday schedule of New Year’s Eve afternoon and New Year’s Day.

Lobban said at the time she expected the governor to grant the additional half-days on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve as holidays, but he has not yet done so.

Upon learning of the commission’s action, Greenbrier Chief Circuit Judge James J. Rowe issued an administrative order Dec. 13 noting that the county commission does not have the legal authority to declare a holiday. The judge ordered the commission to “arrange for adequate security to ensure that the courthouse is open for business” in the morning hours of Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

“Inasmuch as the first half of the day is not a legal holiday or otherwise designated as time off for West Virginia personnel, the Office of the Circuit Clerk must open and must be accessible to members of the public who may wish to conduct business with that office,” Rowe wrote.

He also ordered the county’s magistrate office to be open and properly secured on the mornings in question.

Lobban acknowledged that court-related offices are under the jurisdiction of the chief judge, but said during a Tuesday commission meeting, “We are not declaring this a holiday. We are simply giving extra time to our employees.”

Re-affirming the commission’s unanimous vote of Nov. 26 to give employees the extra half-days off, Lobban said she had consulted with both the governor’s office and the County Commission Association and confirmed that, while the commission cannot designate a holiday or give employees bonuses, it does have discretion on whether to close the non-judicial offices in the courthouse.

Lobban said the vote to close the courthouse was never intended to affect those offices mandated to remain open by the judge’s order.

“Nothing has changed with our decision,” she said, noting that the courthouse’s 61 employees are salaried and, therefore, would draw the full day’s pay whether working or not.

While Commissioner Woody Hanna apologized to employees for the misunderstanding and said, in retrospect, he believes the commission should have “checked with the judge” before deciding to close the extra half-days, Commissioner Mike McClung supported Lobban’s statement that “nothing has changed.”

Both Lobban and McClung assured the public that courthouse security would be in place during the hours that court-related offices are staffed.

Greenbrier County Courthouse offices that will be open until noon on Christmas Eve, but will be closed that afternoon and on Christmas Day, include circuit clerk, prosecuting attorney and magistrate court.

With the exception of the sheriff’s law enforcement division, other courthouse offices, including sheriff’s tax office, county clerk, assessor, county commission and planning and zoning, will be closed all day Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

No firm announcements have been made about the New Year’s Eve schedule, although it is expected to follow this same course.

By contrast, Monroe County suffered no such controversy, with all courthouse offices remaining open until noon on Christmas Eve, then closing until the following Monday morning.

— E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com

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