The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 11, 2012

Action delayed on county magistrate

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — Magistrates in Raleigh and three other West Virginia counties wrestle with a higher average of cases, but only Monongalia is earmarked for an extra one in a pending bill.

Lacking a quorum, Judiciary Subcommittee A was unable Monday to vote on the measure that would give only Monongalia another magistrate.

Based on figures compiled for the past three years, Monongalia County ranks fifth in the number of cases magistrates were assigned to handle, Senate counsel Kevin Baker told the committee.

If a new one is approved there, Monongalia County would have five magistrates, same as Raleigh.

Raleigh County in that three-year span ranked third in the average caseload, or 3,504 per magistrate.

Within that time frame, magistrates in the Beckley-based region dealt with an average of 17,521 cases.

Berkeley County was first with an average caseload of 3,731, while Kanawha County was second, at 3,547, and Wood was fourth, with an average of 3,248.

Delegate John O’Neal IV, R-Raleigh, and Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, both questioned the validity of using population to arrive at a new magistrate for Monongalia.

“The caseload itself seems to be the figure that should be relevant to the amount of work a magistrate has, not necessarily the population of the county,” O’Neal said.

Baker, however, told the legislators that a caseload can fluctuate.

“The population for Monongalia does not include the student population, so there would be an even greater population when school is in session,” Baker said.

Baker told Palumbo that consideration of additional circuit judges is tied directly to population and not to actual caseload.

Palumbo, however, contended that caseloads haven’t fluctuated that much in the three years that figures were compiled for the committee.

“What have we done historically in adding magistrates — caseload, or population, or just picked them out of a hat?” he wondered.

The three-year caseload average in Kanawha County was 35,470, spread among 10 magistrates.

Cabell’s average was 18,753, or 2,679 per each of the seven magistrates.

“Counties that appear to be in the most need for a new magistrate would be Berkeley, Monongalia and Wood,” Baker told the committee.

Magistrates are paid on a two-tiered basis, based on population. The highest are paid $57,500, while those in smaller counties get $51,175.

Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, pointed to three factors that must be considered in the debate over a magistrate.

If the West Virginia University student body is figured into the mix, he said, the county’s population jumps by 29,000.

Secondly, he pointed to the county’s close proximity to Pennsylvania and Maryland. And the third matter is the shrinking population of other counties.

“Of course,” he added, “I’m biased for a new magistrate for Monongalia County.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com