Magistrates and judges in Monongalia County are taking advantage of the reduced docket and doing what they can to keep cases moving without being able to hear cases in-person.
“I will say that our circuit court, family court, magistrate court, are just trying to adapt,” Monongalia County Chief Circuit Judge Debra Scudiere said. “We want to protect the rights of everybody while still being safe.”
Some civil case hearings are being held by phone, and last week, Scuidere did two adoptions by phone.
For civil cases, attorneys are being cooperative and submitted more agreed orders, meaning Scuidere doesn’t have to hear arguments and make a ruling. She said she’s thankful for the attorneys who are working things out during the COVID-19 shutdown.
Scudiere said her assistant is working harder than normal having to reschedule cases, prepare for the future and trying to address things as they come up.
“I had one case that really needed me to study and figure out some difficult legal points and so I’ve taken advantage of this time to really delve into some of those issues and make a lot of notes and try and figure those things out,” Scudiere said. “Whereas in a normal day if I had 10 or 13 hearings I might not be able to dig in as much.”
Magistrate Court is still performing arraignments for people who are arrested, felony preliminary hearings and protective orders.
The court is operating with a skeleton crew of one magistrate, one clerk and one assistant on duty at a time, Magistrate Sandy Holepit said.
The only walk-in type cases allowed are protective and safety orders and Holepit is only allowing two people in her courtroom at a time and when at all possible, doing hearings by phone or video.
Magistrate Tim Pocius said he’s seen a small surge in protective orders since Gov. Jim Justice’s stay-at-home order was issued.
Pocius is also looking through old files, making sure everything is up to date and reviewing bonds to see who can be released from jail as a preemptive defense against the spread of COVID-19.
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals requested that magistrates go easier when setting bond except in cases of violence or imminent public danger, though, ultimately, it’s still the magistrate’s decision, Holepit said.