Bill including a 5th Mon magistrate clears Senate Judiciary, heads to Finance

By David Beard

CHARLESTON – Monongalia County is as close as it’s ever been to getting a fifth magistrate.

The Senate Judiciary committee on Friday approved and sent to Finance SB 261, dealing with a change in magistrate numbers for several counties — including Monongalia.

Every county is entitled to two magistrates and current code requires the State Supreme Court to set the numbers for each county based mostly on population with some provision for caseload.

SB 261 proposes to set the number of magistrates in each county in code, in place of the somewhat convoluted wording allowing the Supreme Court to do it.

The original version of the bill proposed that Mon County’s magistrate count would increase from four to five; Preston’s fall from three to two; and Marion’s from four to three.

None of those changes survived into the proposed committee substitute. In that, only three counties saw changes: Putnam from three to four; Berkeley from five to six; and McDowell from three to two.

Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, presented to the members last week a caseload chart that showed Mon’s magistrates have the second-highest load in the state for 2018, as 2,330 cases per magistrate. Only Putnam was higher, at 3,021.

He was unable to attend Monday’s meeting but on his behalf, Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, proposed an amendment to add one to Mon. “I think Mon County deserves one, based on the statistics,” he said.

Members approved his amendment, along with two others to add one to Logan, raising its count from three to four; and one to Jefferson, which has the fourth-highest caseload, just below Berkeley, raising its count also from three to four.

Logan’s caseload is 10th highest. It’s losing population but seeing an increase in crime, the basis for its senator, Democrat Paul Hardesty, to propose his amendment.

Beach said afterward that he’s happy Woelfel’s amendment succeeded. He’s been trying for about five years to get Mon another magistrate.

Judiciary was the first hurdle for SB 261. After Finance it goes to the Senate floor for likely review by its Judiciary and Finance committees before a full House vote. And any House amendments would send it back to the Senate for concurrence or compromise.

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