WHEELING, W.Va. — The Northern Panhandle could lose three magistrates and as many magistrate assistants if a proposed bill becomes law.
The bill – cleared by the Senate Judiciary Committee over the weekend and now pending in the finance committee – would reduce the number of magistrates from 158 to 149 statewide. It specifically calls for one fewer magistrate in Ohio, Hancock and Marshall counties beginning in the 2016 election cycle. Brooke, Wetzel and Tyler counties would not be affected.
Ohio County currently has four magistrates, while Marshall and Hancock counties have three.
Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said he will do everything he can to defeat the bill.
“If I were in charge, that bill would be dead,” he said. “The Marshall County data is flawed and the information is not a representative sample of the Northern Panhandle. It did not take into account future growth and increased population brought by the oil and gas industry.”
Ohio County Magistrate Joe Roxby said the county has case numbers to justify four magistrates.
“West Virginia Supreme Court statistics for 2013 showed each magistrate in Ohio County handled 2,300 cases,” he said. “Magistrates work in a 24/7 world and the sponsors of this bill are 9 to 5 people.”
Magistrate Harry Radcliffe said passage of the bill would create an unfair judicial system.
“We work hard to make sure the needs of the citizens are met in a fair and equitable manner,” he said. “If this bill passes, it will push the magistrate courts, which are the front line of the judiciary, to hurriedly rush people through the system possibly without fully meeting their needs.”
A note on the bill states that magistrates are apportioned upon an administrative order issued by the Supreme Court of Appeals, which also calls for at least two magistrates per county.
The bill provides that during the 2016 election cycle, one less magistrate would be elected to the counties of Fayette, Preston, Harrison, Marion, Greenbrier, Hancock, Marshall, Mingo, Nicholas, Ohio, Putnam, Randolph, Wayne and Wyoming.
During the 2020 election cycle, the bill makes a further reduction of one magistrate position in Marion County.
According to the bill, additional magistrates would be added to Berkeley, Jefferson, Kanawha, Monongalia and Raleigh counties in 2016, with a second new magistrate added to Berkeley County in 2020.