Government, Latest News, Monongalia County

Bane asks Mon Commission to back push for additional magistrate

MORGANTOWN — The numbers don’t lie, Monongalia County Magistrate Ron Bane said Wednesday as he passed out county magistrate court caseload data to members of the Monongalia County Commission.

“Monongalia County needs a fifth magistrate,” Bane said, noting he handled 2,456 cases, or touchpoints, in his first year on the bench. “Remember, that’s just me. We have four magistrates and their case load is about the same as mine.”

By comparison, the magistrate courts in Mercer (5,984) and Harrison (5,077) counties both handled fewer cases than Monongalia County (6,367) in 2020, according to the state’s Supreme Court. Both of those counties have five magistrates. 

Ohio, Marion and Fayette counties also have four magistrates but saw caseloads ranging from 3,003 to 4,263 in 2020.

Currently, the number of magistrates statewide is capped at 158 and every county is entitled to at least two magistrates, setting up scenarios like Tucker County, in which two magistrates split 304 cases in a year.

“I do that in one month. I almost do that in two weeks sometimes. So those two magistrates down there each had 152 cases last year. I had 2,456. But they get paid the same as I do. I don’t know what they do with their time,” Bane said.

While Bane said the gesture may ultimately be in vain, he requested and received the commission’s support for House Bill 2910, which would reshuffle the 158 magistrates across the state based on population. If adopted, a county would receive one magistrate for every 15,500 people.

Bane noted that bill doesn’t appear destined to reach a vote in the House of Delegates.

“When you do the numbers on the new bill and how it works, we would go from four magistrates to seven. There’s no other county in the state that would do that,” he said.

In terms of population, the 2020 Census put Monongalia County (105,822) third behind Kanawha (180,745) and Berkeley (122,076) counties. Kanawha County has 10 magistrates. Berkeley County has five magistrates, and handled 12,061 cases in 2020, nearly double Monongalia County’s total.

From 1996 to 2000, Monongalia County had five magistrates. In 2000, the state opted to take one away and provide it to Mercer County.

Since then, Bane said, the county has gained two circuit court judges, a family court judge and several prosecuting attorneys, but no magistrates.

“That’s where we’ve been,” he said. “Twenty-one years this way.”

Commission President Tom Bloom said the data provided by Bane makes clear the discrepancy between counties when it comes to magistrate caseloads and should help make the case to state lawmakers.

The rub, Commissioner Sean Sikora added, is having the number of magistrates locked at 158 statewide.

“So if they’re not going to grow the pie … it’s just a numbers game. You have 52 or so counties fighting not to lose someone versus the two or three who need to gain,” Sikora said. “But if it needs to happen, it needs to happen.”

In other county news, the commission awarded a $199,999 contract to Anderson Excavating to regrade the Chestnut Ridge Park sledding hill and install a tow rope system.

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