Mon County officials renew push for fifth magistrate

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The caseloads for Monongalia County’s four magistrates continue to grow and remain among the heaviest in the state, emphasizing the need for an additional magistrate.

Officials are hoping that an extra magistrate will come either through legislation approved last year or a proposal that will be introduced during this year’s legislative session.

Gov. Justice signed House Bill 2910 on March 30, 2022, which called for the state Supreme Court to commission a caseload study on reallocating magistrates in each county and provide lawmakers with related information. The law also establishes a minimum of 158 magistrates and a 170 magistrate maximum. State lawmakers are due to be presented with the findings from that study during this year’s legislative session. The bill also included a provision providing an additional magistrate for Berkeley County.

However, officials in Monongalia County are not waiting for the report to stress the need for a fifth magistrate. Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, plans to introduce a bill that would simply provide the county with a fifth magistrate. He’s worked with current Magistrate Ron Bane to develop legislation that does not impact other counties. Last year, Bane worked on a bill that would have shifted some magistrates around, providing help where it was needed.

“Taking three magistrates from three counties and moving them to the counties that needed them, which would have been budget neutral. That didn’t happen because even trying to move three was the death sentence. That just wasn’t going to happen,” Bane recalled.

“I’m not trying to step on anybody’s toes this time. We have the numbers, it makes sense to do it this way.”

There is no doubt the four magistrates are busy. They handled more than 6,500 cases in 2021 and Bane explained that some days he is hearing a case every 15 minutes.

“When you add another magistrate, it gives me another week of full-time work to catch up on cases and we have more spacing between cases. There are times we need to have more discussion but you’ve got to get done.”

Monongalia County had five magistrates from 1996 to 2000 but in 2000, the legislature chose to take one away and give it to Mercer County.

The 60-day legislative session begins on Wednesday.